Women’s Volleyball: Jones shines, yet women fall short in Marquette Challenge

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Kelsey Mattai brings the heat over the weekend stretch. Photo by Aaron Ledesma/aaron.ledesma@marquette.edu

Entering the fourth set with a 2-1 advantage, the ingredients were set for Marquette volleyball (9-4) to cook up a signature upset over 9th ranked Minnesota (7-2).  The women were rolling — feeding off the crowd’s energy, minimizing their errors and riding the powerful right arm of senior outside hitter Ciara Jones.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

Mistakes plagued the Golden Eagles’ final two sets and ultimately cost them the match (25-17, 22-25, 27-29, 25-20, 15-12).  And although this nullified the opportunity for a signature win out of conference and a championship in the Marquette Challenge, junior middle hitter Kelsey Mattai is still staying positive.

“We’re really proud of our performance, and we are not hanging our heads,” Mattai said. “We did a lot of good things today, and we’re looking forward to taking all these positives into our next match.”

This weekend, the Golden Eagles’ largest positive was quite simple: Jones was on their side.

After notching 16 kills in a gritty 3-1 win Friday against Middle Tennessee State (16-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-23), the senior raised her play to another level against the better competition.  Consistently powering through Minnesota’s unique “swing blocks,” a technique allowing defenders to jump more aggressively, Jones registered a career-high 24 kills versus only five errors, on her way to an impressive .432 hitting percentage.

“My mom always tells me to be relentless, and I feel that that’s what I did tonight,” Jones said after the game. “I wasn’t afraid they were ranked ninth in the nation, because it’s our home floor.  I was just trying to work hard.”

Yet Jones’ effort was not enough to overcome the Golden Eagles’ inconsistency, as the team committed 35 errors, including 12 missed serves.

Coach Bond Shymansky acknowledged that these mistakes took his team out of the game.

“We had real trouble with our first contact in that fifth set,” he said.  “We’re playing on a big stage against a top-ten opponent, and sometimes you tend to overamp things a bit.”

Against Middle Tennessee State, the women used their blocking to turn around a tough first set loss.  Although they had less fortune with Minnesota, Shymansky sees defensive play at the net as the way forward for his team.

“Blocking is, frankly, a new element we’ve been working on more this year,” Shymansksy said.  “If we can have it all come around, I really believe we can become a dominant team.”

Mattai responded to her coaches’ teaching, registering five blocks in only two sets of gameplay on Friday. Her substitution into the match was an obvious game-change. However, she attributed her success to her teammates and technique.

“The trick was just getting to the outside fast,” she said.  “I was glad we were able to get some good touches and help the back row out.”

Jones, who made the Marquette Challenge All-Tournament team along with fellow outside hitter Ashley Beyer and libero Julie Jaziorowski, is also looking to expand her game.

According to Shymansky, Jones is working hard in practice to improve her back row skill set, a move aimed at allowing her to stay in the rotation longer.  However, for the time being, 24 kills will have to do.

“This is what I want to do every game,” she said.  “I just hit it hard, I saw a lot of holes, and saw where I wanted to hit.”

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