ST. PAUL, Minn. — Senior Ariel Krolikowski piled up 18 kills and junior Katie Sokolowski 12 as the University of Nebraska at Kearney volleyball team swept Washburn 25-20, 25-15, 25-18 Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament.
The Lopers play Southwest Minnesota State Friday at 5 p.m. The teams share the No. 2 spot in the rankings.
The sixth-seed in the Central Regional, the fourth-ranked Lady Blues (31-4) lost all three times they played Kearney this fall.
Washburn had to face some adversity. Starting setter Abby Wittman still wasn't 100 percent after spraining her ankle in the MIAA Tournament two weeks ago. Also, a bout of sickness went through the Lady Blues and starting libero Courtney Churchman couldn't play and several others weren't operating at full strength.
“It's hard enough to beat a great team like Kearney with all your guns fully loaded, let alone when they aren't. We tried the best we could with what we had,” Washburn coach Chris Herron said.
Continuing its fine play of recent weeks, the third-seeded and second-ranked Lopers recorded 50 kills and hit a solid .315 while digging up 65 balls and serving up five aces with no errors.
“We're very pleased to move on and it was good to see us to play at the level we have been the last two or three weeks,” coach Rick Squiers said. “I'm very happy that our girls could perform well on this stage and in a regional that is loaded with nationally ranked teams.”
UNK (34-2) improves to 26-16 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
The first set was the closest as it featured four ties and three lead changes. Down 16-11, Washburn recorded four straight kills to force Squiers to call timeout.
After the break, UNK went on its own 4-0 run that made Washburn use a timeout. The spurt featured three Lopers kill, including one from Sokolowski. Kearney kept a four-point cushion the rest of the way and a kill by Krolikowski closed out the set.
The Lopers then exploded in set two, grabbing leads of 11-2 and 17-4 before the Lady Blues made a late push. This time, a Sokolowski kill ended a set in which Washburn had only nine kills.
UNK used a 5-1 run to break a 3-3 tie in the third set to lead for good. Both Krolikowski and Sokolowski had two kills apiece during the mini-run.
Krolikowski had match-highs in kills (18) and attack percentage (.457) while supplying nine digs and two blocks on defense. Sokolowski provided 12 kills, two blocks and a .400 hitting efficiency in the middle with front row mate Ellie Pesavento at eight kills and three stuffs.
Junior Ashley Leitner had seven kills, seven digs and three aces. Running the show, senior setter Jenna Rouzee had 39 assists, 14 digs, three kills, two blocks and an ace. Sophomore libero Liz McGowan had a match-high 15 digs.
Washburn was led by Jessica Kopp (14 kills) and Crete native Jessica Fey (11 kills).