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Bears Split Matches At NMSU Tournament

Sep 5, 2014

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – When the Cal volleyball team suffered its first loss of the season Friday, it had about two hours before it had to be back on the floor at New Mexico State to play again.

That proved to be just the right amount of time.

The Bears rebounded from their first setback of the season to sweep North Dakota State, 25-16, 25-18, 25-18 during the New Mexico State Tournament at the Pan American Center. Junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise led the Bears (4-1) with 11 kills and four blocks while freshman outside hitter Christine Alftin added nine kills and six digs.

Earlier, Cal dropped a five-set heartbreaker against Radford, the defending Big South champions, 25-22, 22-25, 25-23, 18-25, 15-12. Senior opposite hitter Christina Higgins led the Bears with 16 kills, Alftin had 15 kills and six digs and freshman outside hitter Ashten Smith-Gooden added 14 kills.  Sophomore libero Maddy Kerr had 19 digs.

“We didn’t really know how we were going to turn it around and compete as a team,” said Schonewise, who also had 13 kills and five blocks against Radford. “I think the quick turnaround was good for us. We had a little time to think about it but not too much time to overanalyze it.”

The Bears played matches at 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. local time Friday. By the time they returned to the team hotel after the match against Radford, it was past 1 p.m.

The team met to watch video for a half-hour at 2:30 p.m. then was right back on the bus to begin warming up for its match against N. Dakota St.

“When we met to watch video, I could tell our mindsets were already different,” Schonewise said. “Everyone was a little more competitive. You could tell we were not satisfied with the loss and we knew we had to go out and compete.”

Still, the Bears fell behind 7-3 in the first set against the Bison (1-4), but then turned the match around behind Alftin. She had three of Cal’s next five kills and finished with seven in the first set as the Bears won seven of the final eight points to win.

The Bears rolled in the final two sets behind steady hitting and a strong defensive effort, led by Kerr’s 12 digs.

“We did some really good things that we were not able to do against Radford,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “We played more like a team rather than six individuals. Thank goodness, we were able to turn the first set around pretty quickly and not let it affect us.”

The Bears had four players in double-figures in digs against Radford. Along with Kerr’s 19, setter Alyssa Jensen had 16, Mary McKennon finished with 13 and Sarah Cole had 12. Jensen also dished out 54 assists, her third 50-plus assist performance this season.

After the match was tied one set apiece, the Bears cut a 24-21 deficit to 24-23 after a pair of hitting errors by the Highlanders. But Radford came up with a final kill to close out the set. Cal jumped out to a comfortable lead in the fourth set and held it throughout.

The Bears trailed 6-2 in the fifth set but came back to tie things up at 8-8. The Highlanders (3-1) scored three in a row but Cal responded with back-to-back points of its own to make it 11-10. It was 12-11 before Radford scored two in succession to take control.

The Bears will close out play in the New Mexico State Tournament on Saturday against the host Aggies.

“The win definitely doesn’t make the morning go away, but we have to leave it in the past,” Schonewise said. “It won’t be good for us to carry it with us. We need to learn from it and move forward. We still have work to do in this tournament. We are facing another great team and we have to come out and compete against them.”