KEARNEY — The opponent didn't cause as much concern as an emotional letdown.
Playing the first round of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association volleyball tournament Tuesday night, the University of Nebraska at Kearney delivered a performance good enough to eliminate Central Oklahoma, 25-17, 25-12, 25-19.
The match against the Bronchos (13-18) followed weekend victories over Central Missouri and Washburn, both ranked in the top six nationally. The victories — highlighted by a five-set comeback after losing the first two sets at Washburn — gave the Lopers home-court advantage in the MIAA tournament and pushed them up to No. 2 in the nation.
“We're coming off a really big weekend where every rally was a high-intensity rally and it was touch-and-go all the way through,” UNK coach Rick Squiers said.
UNK (31-2) defeated Central Oklahoma, the eighth seed in the tournament, twice during the regular season.
“You still have to win but it's really difficult to play at the same level and we didn't,” Squiers said. “But we played well enough to get on to the next round and this time of the year, that's what you have to do.”
The tournament semifinals will be Friday with Washburn playing Central Missouri at 5 p.m., and UNK taking on Emporia State at 7 p.m. Emporia State upset 13th-ranked Truman State in one of Tuesday's other quarterfinals.
The championship will be Saturday at the UNK Health and Sports Center.
Central Oklahoma (13-8) got off to a good start with a pair of stuff blocks, but the Lopers responded with an 11-3 run that set the tone — UNK attacked while the Bronchos dug.
UNK finished with 18 kills the first set while hitting .333. The Lopers tallied 20 kills in the third set.
Junior middle Ellie Pesavento scored five of her 10 kills in the first set. She had no attack errors and finished with a .667 hitting efficiency and three blocks.
“We knew were high up in energy and everything and we were really excited after the Washburn game and we had to let it go and get this game done to keep moving along,” Pesavento said. “We want to keep winning and keep going as far as we can.”
Outside hitter Ariel Krolikowski finished with a team-high 11 kills as UNK ripped the Central Oklahoma defense with 49 kills.
“Point in, point out, it's just constant pressure,” Central Oklahoma coach Edgar Miraku said. “It was not necessarily our best play but a lot of that is Kearney being a good school ... at times they make the opponent look like they don't play well.”
Morgan Roy led the Bronchos with 11 kills Juliette Smith finished with six blocks.
As a team, the Bronchos tied the Lopers with seven blocks. But UNK had the edge in all other offensive categories. But Squiers said it wasn't the Lopers' 'A' game.
“It definitely wasn't the same kind of defense we've been played recently. We let a few balls drop that shouldn't drop,” he said.