Three NCAA Div. III national titles
WINONA, MINN.—The Central College volleyball team was bested in its final two matches, once by a top-10 team, at the SMU Cardinal Invitational on Saturday.
Augustana (Ill.) avenged an early-season, five-set loss at Central with a 15-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-15 win in the opener before No. 10 St. Benedict (Minn.) swept the invitational finale 25-19, 25-12, 25-17.
Central raced out to a nine-point lead in the first set versus Augustana and never looked back. After winning the first three points, the Dutch pushed the lead to 12-3 and led by at least five points the rest of the way. The Vikings (11-6 overall) responded, slowly pulling away in both the second and third sets and closing out the match on a 20-6 run in the fourth.
“It was a lot like yesterday,” coach Kent Clayberg said. “We came out and played a spectacular first set. We moved well and our defense was on. But our errors doubled in the second set and tripled in the third. We did not handle the challenge well. When things are clicking we are very good, but we are not putting it together for an entire match.”
Outside hitter Jessica Laflin (junior, Phoenix, Ariz., Horizon Honors HS) led the Dutch in kills for the fourth consecutive match with 11. Middle hitter Hannah Welter (junior, Lincoln, Neb., Lincoln SW HS) added seven kills on a team-high .353 hitting percentage and three total blocks. Setter Claire Stewart (junior, Colorado Springs, Colo., Classical Academy) finished with 18 assists and eight digs. Defensive specialist Dzenita Bahtic (junior, Urbandale) had 18 digs.
Facing its second ranked opponent in as many days, Central was bested by No. 10 St. Benedict (Minn.) in three sets. The Blazers (16-2 overall), whose two losses this season were to No. 3 St. Thomas (Minn.) and now No. 19 Augsburg (Minn.), scored the first three points of the opening set and controlled the match from that point on in a 25-19, 25-12, 25-17 win.
“To be honest, we played much better in the second match against St. Benedict,” said Clayberg. “You never walk away from a losing sweep feeling good, but we looked like a much better team.”
Outside hitter Sara Snead (junior, Altoona, Southeast Polk HS) led the offensive attack with seven kills. Stewart assisted on 17, while Bahtic recorded 19 digs. Laflin, the Dutch leader in kills entering the invitational finale, was sidelined due to injury.
“There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Clayberg said. “We get back into conference play this week and we need to come to play.”
Central (6-16 overall, 0-3 IIAC) returns to conference action at Simpson (12-3 overall, 1-2 IIAC) on Wednesday. Last season the Dutch scored a five-set win over the Storm in Pella. Simpson was swept by conference co-leader Wartburg (14-7 overall, 3-0 IIAC) last Wednesday.