Balanced attack leads Mavericks into Summit tournament

UNO junior middle blocker Anna Blaschko leads the Summit League in hitting percentage (.396). 

UNO concluded its regular season Sunday with another balanced attack.

Sadie Limback finished with 15 kills, Isabella Sade had 13 and Anna Blaschko added 11 as the Mavericks defeated South Dakota State in four sets. It was the 10th match this season that the trio all reached double-digit kills.

“Not one of us could have success without the other,” said Blaschko, a junior middle blocker who leads the Summit League in hitting percentage (.396). “Our offense relies on deceiving the block. We rarely see a double block, and (setter) Sami (Clarkson) is good at distributing the ball so we have an open shot.”

The Mavs (17-13) hope to use that balanced offense to make a run through the Summit tournament, which begins Friday in Denver. The fourth-seeded Mavs play fifth-seeded North Dakota State at 4 p.m. The winner takes on top-seeded South Dakota (27-1) in Saturday’s 4 p.m. semifinal. The final is 3 p.m. Sunday.

All three of UNO’s top hitters are among the Summit’s top 11 in kills per set. Sade, a junior outside hitter, is fourth at 3.55; Limback, a sophomore right-side hitter who had double-digit kills in 16 straight matches, is fifth at 3.48; and Blaschko is 11th at 2.74. Clarkson, a true freshman who moved into the starting lineup in mid-September, is second in the league in assists (11.41 per set).

Alexa Blase, Rachel Fairbanks and Claire Leonard also have recorded double-digit kills. Overall, UNO is ninth in the NCAA in total kills with 1,567.

“We have hitters in every single spot on the court who can put the ball down,” Sade said. “I think we’re very versatile as a team.”

The Mavs, who have one senior on their roster, have transited with a new coaching staff this season. The offense is faster under first-year coach Matt Buttermore, but he said for the most part it’s been efficient and consistent.

“I’m usually used to having the team with the best defense. This year we have the best offense,” said Buttermore, who came from the NAIA’s Hastings College.

In the middle of the season, the Mavs played eight five-setters during an 11-match span. UNO was 1-7, including a loss to South Dakota.

But Blaschko thinks the team is playing with more urgency now as it enters the postseason having won seven of nine matches.

“It was frustrating, but honestly it brought all of us closer together,” Sade said of the five-set losses. “I think everyone is jelling at the right time.”

Gene covers a variety of sports beats for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @geneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1038.

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