Skyhawks scale Black Hills

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

The Fort Lewis College volleyball team picked up a ton of momentum and confidence after rolling to a 25-13 win in the third set in an eventual 3-1 victory over Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference newcomer Black Hills State on Friday.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

Fort Lewis College went into the phone booth after Set 2 and came out with an S on its chest.

And Black Hills State was all out of kryptonite.

The FLC volleyball team rolled to an impressive 25-13 win in the third set before winning the fourth 25-18 to top the Yellow Jackets 3-1 in the schools’ first-ever Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference meeting.

FLC won 25-18, 16-25, 25-13 and 25-18.

The Skyhawks (8-7, 4-3 RMAC) were as impressive in the third set as they’d been all year. Ciara Krening’s sets were crisp, the serving picked up, the kills were powerful, and the blocks were disruptive as FLC built a lead as big as 24-9 before closing the door.

“I think they started to realize what their hard work has been going towards, and now they see that they can get that rhythm together,” FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said.

“What we reminded them of was we had a good scouting report on Black Hills, and while they were big – they were big girls – those shots were still available to us. ... I think they did a great job of remembering what our game plan was, and they did it.”

Blocking perhaps was the biggest key in the big third set. FLC had five team blocks, using a combination of defense and serving with aplomb to rattle Black Hills State (5-11, 0-7 RMAC), which mustered a -.067 attack percentage in the frame.

“I think during the first couple games we got a feel for where they were hitting and stuff, and it was easy for us to adjust to them,” Stephani Sonka said.

The Skyhawks picked right up where they left off in the fourth set, tallying a .370 attack percentage after posting a .348 mark in the previous set.

Offensively, Krening, who had 40 assists, was an equal-opportunity setter. Hannah Starbuck, a junior, had 11 kills against no errors. Ashley Wells had 11 kills, Ashley Ellis 10 and Sonka eight in a well-rounded display.

“Hannah, no errors on 20 attempts ... that girl plays with the ferociousness that few players play with,” Aaland said. “I respect and honor her maturity because I think that’s what it is.

“Ciara did a good job. While I don’t think it was her best technical night, I think she does a great job of knowing the offense and how we want the ball distributed. ... Steph did great.”

For Aaland, the biggest tell of the night was the final set.

Wells said Thursday the weekend’s mantra was to finish, and the Skyhawks did just that, holding the lead throughout and overcoming a handful of service errors to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay.

“That was our character match is what I called it at the start of the fourth game, because we had an opportunity to show what kind of character we were going to have,” Aaland said. “Were we going to allow them back in it? Or if we were just going to keep going. And while I do think we had a couple moments in that fourth game where we wanted to invite them back in it, I think we fought through it, and I couldn’t be any prouder of the girls.”

The key in the final two decisive sets was the Skyhawks’ ability to not allow a Yellow Jackets’ run of more than a couple of points. Black Hills State couldn’t build momentum as FLC chipped in timely kill after timely kill.

“I think that’s really important. We just kept the momentum the whole time, and it just seemed easier to keep that momentum through our blocks, passes, digs, everything,” Sonka said.

FLC’s lone blemish on the evening came in the second set. Caitlin Templeton, who finished with 13 kills, and Amy O’Neill, who had 15, put down nine of Black Hills’ 14 kills, and the Skyhawks limped to a .167 attack percentage, piling up six errors.

It was a stark contrast to the opening frame, one in which both teams put on a fairly impressive attacking display. Black Hills State had 13 kills against just four errors but did itself in with four service miscues; FLC had 12 kills to just two errors for a stellar .435 percentage.

“Again, it was just going back to what we knew,” Aaland said.

Jenna Kinzer led FLC with nine digs.

Now the test becomes whether or not FLC can ride the wave of momentum into today’s matchup with Chadron State at 6 p.m. at Whalen Gymnasium – Match No. 2 on this homecoming weekend.

“I think we just have to make sure we keep our focus and remember how this feels (Friday) and just carry that over to (today),” Sonka said.

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