The Fort Lewis College volleyball team found its yin and yang Friday night.
There was offense and defense, hitting and digging, passing and tipping, blocking and setting, front and back.
And Friday night against CSU-Pueblo when it all came together, a type of high-energy focus settled over the Skyhawks and landed them a dominating straight-sets win over the ThunderWolves, a 1-0 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference record, a win total to equal last season’s and – at least for the night – a little bit of inner peace before they get back to work.
The Skyhawks (5-4, 1-0 RMAC) beat the ThunderWolves (8-2, 0-1 RMAC) 25-22, 25-17, 25-18, putting on an all-around show for the home crowd at Whalen Gymnasium in their home opener.
“I knew we had it in us,” FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said of what she dubbed “our best match of the season.”
If Kristin Stephan personified the Skyhawks’ yin Friday, her roommate, Jenna Kinzer, personified their yang.
Two sides of the same coin – front and back – Stephan and Kinzer jumped on the ThunderWolves early and didn’t let up.
At middle hitter, Stephan put down eight kills, mixing up her attack with spikes and tips.
Stephani Sonka and Ashley Wells also added eight kills each for FLC.
Only the 5-9 Hannah Starbuck had more (11), putting up an impressive performance on the front line (after moving from her position in back last year) with blistering hits that more often than not found either floor or her opponents fingertips before they flew out of bounds.
“She’s the most intense player I think I’ve ever had,” Aaland said. “And that’s what makes her jump higher.”
But Stephan also added plenty of defense to her offense at the net, frustrating Pueblo’s hitters with a team-high two individual blocks and getting in on several team blocks, too.
The Skyhawks racked up 13 blocks on the night, including three in four points in Game 2 to take a 17-13 lead and pave the way for a bevy of CSU-Pueblo errors as they tried to find holes in the defense.
In Game 2, CSU-Pueblo ended up with a -0.95 kill percentage with 14 errors.
“Who knew?” Aaland said of her team’s defense at the net. “We’ve been working on it, but that doesn’t mean they always do it.”
When the ThunderWolves’ hitters did find gaps up front, they didn’t find much floor space: The yang and her back line were waiting to pick up the digs.
Kinzer totaled 19 of the Skyhawks’ 50 total digs to help shut down what Aaland said is usually a high-powered offense.
“As a team our defense was really awesome. And our front line backed us up,” Kinzer said.
“That one’s for you,” the yang said, nodding at yin.
“I think our talk between our front and our back really came together,” Stephan said.
“That one’s for you,” the yin said, nodding at yang.
The only substantial hole the ThunderWolves found was early and in the middle, where with short tips they were able to hang with the Skyhawks and take their only leads of the night, at 17-16 and 18-17 in Game 1.
“You’re always going to give up something with our defense,” said Aaland, describing her defensive strategy as one that requires a lot of reads and sometimes leaves the middle open.
“Some of those we’re going to have to give up.”
But the FLC women kept their composure in the tight match.
“That has been our emphasis,” Aaland said.
Soon, too, they were making their reads, making some dives and keeping the kills off the floor.
“If we’re on to their tendencies early, we adjust our defense,” Kinzer said.
As in Game 1, the Skyhawks scored first in Games 2 and 3 but didn’t let the ThunderWolves hang around long.
In Game 2, the teams traded points until 10-10, when the Skyhawks pulled away on superb blocking, and in Game 3, the FLC women jumped to an 8-3 lead and didn’t look back.
“Everything we’ve been working on came together,” said Stephan, who’s returning from a leg injury and got to play in front of her parents for the first time in more than a year.
“It shows all the hard work we’ve put in,” said Kinzer, who’s returning from a back injury that also ended her 2011 season.
“I think 3-0 is a great way to open (conference play),” Kinzer said.