After two hard-fought victories, the home-winning streak of 27 games came to an end for Weber State volleyball as the University of Northern Colorado beat the Wildcats 3–2 in the Big Sky Conference Championship tournament at Swenson Gym on Nov. 21.
WSU were the first-place team going into the tournament and had a record of 18–9 overall and 11–3 in the Big Sky this season.
Their first opponent was the eighth-ranked University of Montana Grizzlies, and it was more contested than the 3–0 (25–23, 25–15, 25–21) victory showed.
WSU was down 3–2 early in the first set, but never looked back as senior middle blocker Sam Schiess had six kills and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Dani Nay chipped in with five and the Grizzlies couldn’t reclaim an advantage from that point forward.
Montana wasn’t able to string together any form of consistency in the second set as the Wildcats offense was unplayable after they grew their lead to 18–8 thanks to a six-point run, including two kills by senior outside hitter Rylin Adams. WSU would swiftly win the set 25–15, and the set margin was 2-0.
A late rally from the Grizzlies came after a slow start to the third set, and they closed the gap 24–21, but Adams and Nay combined for 15 kills in the set, eight from Adams and seven from Nay. Weber State moved on to the semi-final round of the tournament after they captured a 3–0 sweep and 25–21 third set score.
The final team standing in the Wildcats’ way before the championship match was fourth-place Montana State University, who won their first game of the tournament after coming back from a 2–0 set deficit to 3–2 in their favor against Northern Arizona University on Nov. 18.
A back-and-forth first set kicked off the semi-final game as the Wildcats went up 8–5 after Schiess and Adams both had two kills each.
The set was tied at 12 until the Wildcats went on a 7–1 run with Schiess and Adams both helping out with two more kills. The score was 18–13, which would help them gain control for the rest of the set to close it out 25–20.
In the second set, both teams would trade points, as there were several ties and lead changes until the very end.
MSU setter Delaney Shearan had a chance to tie the set score at 1 point apiece when the Bobcats sat at 24–21.
Instead, Shearan gave WSU 3 points after receiving a service error and having two miscalculated sets, making the Wildcats’ lead 25–24.
Weber State couldn’t take the opportunity of stealing the round, as senior outside hitter Ashlyn Power would receive a service error and a bad set of her own alongside an attack error by Nay. MSU avoided a late scare of losing the set as it finished 27–25.
Weber State outscored Montana State 16–5 after the third set was tied at 9, with Nay having four kills in that span. The Wildcats swiftly won 25–14.
The recurring theme of a seesaw battle between the two colleges continued. Neither university was able to create a margin until the end when MSU just scraped by with outside hitters Jourdain Klein and Kira Thomsen helping the Bobcats claim a fourth-set 25–22 victory and tie the set score at 2–2 to force a fifth set.
With the fifth and final set of a volleyball game only going up to 15 points, it was do-or-die time for the Wildcats if they wanted to book their ticket to the tournament championship.
Adams tied the set up at 11 before Schiess would cap off a 4–1 run with a crucial block that forced MSU middle blocker Emma Pence to commit an attack error and the sold out crowd at Swenson Gym roared as the ‘Cats won the set 15–12 and the game 3–2.
The ‘Cats were set to face their bitter rivals, second-ranked University of Northern Colorado, in the championship game.
For the past three seasons, both colleges have clashed with each other in the Big Sky tournament championship, as UNC won two years ago and Weber State won last year.
Yet again, Adams would later tie the first set up at 24 when things got interesting.
WSU redshirt freshman setter Kate Standifird set up an ace past the Bears’ defense to make it 25–24 Wildcats.
UNC would score 1 point to tie, and Weber State would take a 1-point lead until it was 28–27.
The hopes of WSU taking the first set were crushed as Bears outside hitter Kailey Jo Ince tied the game and put UNC in the lead at 29–28 with two kills. Wildcats freshman middle blocker Baylee Bodily was unable to return Northern Colorado middle blocker Cece Huhn’s block and the Bears won 30–28 and 1–0 for the set score.
Weber State came out after a tiresome first set slow as they gave up 5 straight points, but would score 5 straight points right after, tying the score.
Two kills by Nay and Adams would help open up the lead for WSU as they had a 7–2 scoring run and tied the set score up at 1 with the score being 25–21.
It was all Wildcats in the third set, as Weber State would win 25–14 in the third set and was one set away from being crowned back-to-back Big Sky tournament champions.
Then, UNC came out after a poor performance in the third set, and there was no looking back.
The Bears built a lead up to 17–11, and even though WSU was trying to claw their way back, closing the deficit to 24–22, it wasn’t enough, and UNC would tie the set score at 2 with the fourth set ending 25–22.
The University of Northern Colorado put on a dominant display in the fifth set as Bears outside hitter Makenzie Harris would score five kills to push UNC to a 15–8 fifth set and win the game 3–2 to capture their sixth Big Sky tournament title.
Adams finished with a career-high 27 points in the championship game, and Power had 56 assists, a season-high. Power was named the all-time leader in assists by a player in Big Sky history.
Schiess added 14 kills for the Wildcats as she, along with Power and Adams, played their last game in the Wildcats program before graduating.