The UNK volleyball team gets a second chance this week. It wants to make the most of it.

A year ago, the Lopers were the top seed of the NCAA Division II Central Regional, with the tournament at their home arena. But they were upset by eighth-seeded Harding in the quarterfinals, ending the season at 33-3.

"We're using it as motivation," said junior MK Wolfe of last year's loss. "We're focused on the first game. In the past we've overlooked the first game, and when you do that bad things can happen."

The Lopers have been even more dominant this season, compiling a 33-0 record and earning the right to host the challenging regional again.

Seven of Division II's top nine teams will be in Kearney this week for the regional, which begins with quarterfinal matches Thursday. The semifinals are Friday and the championship at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"First of all, it's really hard just to get in. You're thankful that you a good enough year to be in. Overall, the field is deeper than what the Elite Eight will be," said UNK coach Rick Squiers, noting that quality teams like 13th-ranked Wayne State didn't receive a bid. "You just hope you can build some confidence that first day and ride it the rest of the way."

UNK's quarterfinal opponent this time around is 28-5 Oklahoma Baptist, the regional's only unranked team. UNK played Oklahoma Baptist on the season's opening weekend, dropping the first two sets before rallying to win in five. Squiers thinks that match will help his team on Thursday.

"I think it helps because we understand how good they are and we haven't just seen them on film," Squiers said. "They have our full attention and respect."

Compared to last year, Squiers' squad is a little stronger offensively. Julianne Jackson, the MIAA's co-player of the year, averages a team-best 3.05 kills per set, while Wolfe (2.40 kills per game) and Anna Squiers and Madi Squiers - Rick's daughters - also were first-team all-conference players. Gretna freshman Kamryn Schuler had double-digit kills in all three matches at the MIAA tournament.

"I'd like to think we're a little more potent offensively (this year)," he said. "We're a little more consistent in how we score. It seems like we have a few more options and weapons."

The Lopers haven't won a regional match since 2012 and haven't reached the Elite Eight since 2005. But they feel this can be the year to end those streaks.

"We all get along on and off the court," said Wolfe, an Omaha Marian graduate. "We've had that chemistry all year."

In other Midlands notes:

Pool play at the NAIA volleyball tournament in Sioux City started Tuesday. Bellevue dropped its opener to Central Methodist (31-3), which rallied from two sets down and won the fifth 15-11. Sierra Athen led Bellevue with 19 kills, while Olivia Galas had 59 assists and 13 digs. Concordia won in four sets against Montana Tech, while College of St. Mary was swept against Grand View.

The 15th-ranked Hastings men defeated No. 4 Westmont (Calif.) 2-0 in a round of 16 game.

Nebraska Wesleyan's men's basketball team moved up two spots in this week's D-III poll to No. 6. The Prairie Wolves (7-1) are led by Omaha Creighton Prep grad Nate Schimonitz, who is averaging 25.4 points and 5.4 assists a game.

Western Nebraska women's basketball team moved up a spot to No. 10 in this week's NJCAA Division I poll. The Cougars are 9-1 heading into Tuesday's game against Sheridan and are led by Tishara Morehouse, who is averaging 21.0 points a game.

Nebraska Wesleyan has hired Ryan Norman to be its women's golf coach. Norman has been director of instruction at Fox Run in Council Bluffs for four years and also was Brownell Talbot girls coach for three years. Also, Wesleyan tabbed Lee Steinbrook to coach the women's tennis team. He had been named the men's tennis coach in May.

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