Mesa tables FLC in 5

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Kristin Stephan, Hannah Starbuck and Fort Lewis College got rolling when they began to better set up their blocks at the net, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome Audrey Steinkirchner and Colorado Mesa, which won Tuesday in five sets.

By Ryan Owens
Herald Sports Writer

Tuesday’s five-setter felt more like a prize fight with two teams trading blows and blocks on the volleyball court than Saturday’s, which Fort Lewis College felt it let slip away.

The result, however, was the same.

FLC battled from a two-set deficit to force a deciding set, but Colorado Mesa walked out with a 25-19, 25-13, 23-25, 23-25, 15-12 win Tuesday at Whalen Gymnasium, the Mavericks’ sixth consecutive victory.

Still, FLC head coach Shelly Aaland left Tuesday’s match with a better taste in her mouth than after Saturday’s clunker against New Mexico Highlands.

“The difference between that match and Saturday’s match was night and day,” FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said. “Saturday, we had our opportunities to finish. This was just a great match. This was a battle. This is what the RMAC looks like.”

FLC (5-6, 1-2 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) matched Colorado Mesa blow for blow in the decisive set until the Mavericks closed by scoring six of the last nine points to hang on by their fingernails for a victory that seemed all but assured roughly an hour earlier.

“I give my team a ton of credit, because they could’ve chosen to lie down in the third game, and they didn’t. They battled,” Aaland said. “And that’s what happens.”

The Skyhawks managed to get back into the match by getting better at the service line and shifting to set up their blocks more efficiently than they had earlier on.

In turn, the Mavericks (9-2, 3-0 RMAC) committed 23 of their 38 attack errors in the middle two sets, opening the door for the FLC rally.

“Surprisingly, talking. Talking was the biggest key for us,” FLC’s Ashley Wells said of her team’s uptick in play up front. “Once we get our voices out there on the court, we’re unstoppable.”

Offensively, FLC began to use its middles more effectively both in terms of setting up kills and in the blocking game, with Kristin Stephan and Ashley Ellis beginning to wreak havoc. Stephan finished with nine kills, while Ellis had eight blocks.

“We found the true Skyhawks within us,” Wells said. “We came back with a stronger intensity and focus.”

Colorado Mesa cruised through the first two sets by employing an attack that gutted FLC up the middle, allowing Rachael Beaty to rack up half of her 10 kills in those two sets and Melissa Hess three of her four.

“They just started having some greater shots against us. ... They played a great match and got some great hits on us.”

The Skyhawks’ service game did them no favors early either, with six of their 13 service errors coming in the first set.

“That first (set), that was really tough,” Wells said of the serving. “Like I said from the beginning, we needed a break, and came back, found what we needed to do, stayed disciplined and really just focus on those certain fundamentals.”

Both Aaland and Colorado Mesa head coach Dave Fleming had bones to pick with the officials – Aaland about the calls against Ciara Krening on some of her sets; Fleming with several net violations.

“That’s the problem with officials; you don’t want to notice them,” Aaland said. “And when you notice them on about one every three plays, that’s not what the focus is because then you’re more worried about what he’s doing than what you’re doing.”

Wells led FLC with 14 kills and 14 digs, while Stephani Sonka added 11 kills. Krening had 45 assists.

Jordyn Moody has 29 assists for Colorado Mesa, which was led in kills by Christian Otzen with 14.

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