Once again, it had bubbled to the surface.
The spark and fire you’re looking for as a young team tries to move up a couple of rungs in the pecking order manifested itself in Sets 2 and 3 for the Fort Lewis College volleyball team, much as it did the night before against CSU-Pueblo.
That is, until Darian Mullen almost singlehandedly extinguished it.
Mullen had 15 of her game-high 26 kills in the final two sets, and New Mexico Highlands rallied to down the Skyhawks 3-2 on Saturday at Whalen Gymnasium.
Highlands won 25-22, 18-25, 15-25, 25-12, 15-10, largely by erasing all the momentum FLC built with two stellar sets.
Mullen posted eight kills as the Cowgirls (4-6, 1-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) built a lead as big as 14 in a fourth-set victory.
Mullen then had seven more kills in the final set as errors allowed the Cowgirls to break away from a game Skyhawks squad.
Mullen got hot by reading the FLC defense. After the Skyhawks closed down Highlands’ middle attack and tip game, Mullen began to unleash her powerful spike. When FLC adapted to that, Mullen went back to the tip kills.
“She’s a smart player. ... She definitely is a very good talent that they have and one they’ll probably rely on this season,” FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said.
FLC, meanwhile, committed 14 errors in the final two sets and just couldn’t seem to get its groove back.
“I think the difference was in the second and third sets, we were earning our points. ... We had many, many things available to us, and I think our team came out flat thinking Highlands was just going to hand it to us,” Aaland said.
Before the Cowgirls’ rally, FLC (5-5, 1-1 RMAC) used a 12-3 run to close out the second set and carried the momentum right into the third, leading by as much as 10.
“After seeing what they could do, we made our adjustments and really brought it in the second and third games,” Hannah Starbuck said.
Starbuck was FLC’s all-star, leading the team with 15 kills and 16 digs and playing her typical ferocious and energetic brand of volleyball. It’s a vibe she’s hoping becomes more contagious heading into Tuesday night’s home match against Colorado Mesa.
“It’s now a matter of putting all the intensity and heart into one team effort and taking advantage of it,” Starbuck said.