If The Master’s University women’s volleyball team was looking for an opportunity to fold to Rocky Mountain on Thursday, it had options.
The No. 15-ranked Mustangs dropped the day’s first match, 3-2, to unranked UC Merced. Then they lost the first set of an afternoon meeting with No. 13 Rocky Mountain College (MT), 25-9.
The prospect of finishing the two-day Hope Summer Slam in Fullerton with three losses was very real, even if the Mustangs refused to entertain the idea.
“We just tried to be as ‘next-ball’ focused as we could possibly be,” said libero McKenna Hafner. “Meaning, we shook off anything negative from the last play, set or match, and mentally prepared for what was coming toward us next.”
What came next was a rally worth talking about, the Mustangs pulling off a 3-2 win over a program that won 30 matches and reached the final 16 at NAIA nationals a year ago. It marked the third time in four games that Master’s went to a fifth set. Last season, TMU went five sets just three times.
“I think it definitely helps us understand early on how to fight through a tough match,” said senior middle Jane Cisar, who had seven kills and five blocks against Rocky Mountain. “Especially when we’re tired because we’ve been playing all tournament long. It also reminds us of how much we don’t want to go to five.”
The Mustangs (2-2) reached the fifth set by never trailing in the second frame, never leading in the third and then winning comfortably in sets four and five. After hitting a collective -.069 in the match’s opening set, Master’s performed at its best when the contest was on the line.
The Mustangs compiled 11 kills and two error in the fifth set, good for a .429 mark that was its best of the season. Madi Fay had four kills and no errors in the fifth set, Regan Tate had three kills and one error. And Rebecca Swenning had a pair of kills without a mistake.
Tate reached double-digit kills for the fourth time in as many matches, finishing with a career-high 19. Fay followed with a career-high 15 kills, and Hafner tallied 21 digs. The Mustangs also benefitted from a change in strategy. After the first set, coach Allan Vince switched from a 6-2 system to a 5-1, freeing Fay to focus on swinging and Katie Emmerling on setting.
Emmerling, a junior transfer, recorded a season-high 47 assists in the match, and she found Fay for the match-sealing kill in the fifth.
The day didn’t start on a high note.
Master’s led UC Merced, 23-20, in the fourth set before allowing the Bobcats to go on a 5-0 run to extend the match. In the fifth, the teams were tied at six before Dominique Andrews keyed a 6-2 run with three kills for UC Merced.
Master’s closed within 14-12 but came no closer. Still, Vince, who earned his 100th win as TMU head coach on Wednesday, was pleased with what he saw. He felt the Mustangs were executing in ways they weren’t able to until the midway point of the 2018 season.
The players didn’t allow themselves to get too down, either.
“We made sure to reflect on what we did wrong, but we also made sure not to beat ourselves up for it,” Tate said. “We were encouraged by our ability to fight and the good things we saw.”
Tate and Cisar led the Mustangs with 14 kills each against UC Merced. Fay recorded 29 assists and Emmerling had 20. Hafner amassed 22 digs, and sophomore Emily Scott posted a career-high eight kills.
Here are the box scores for Game 1 and Game 2.
The Mustangs will play their home opener on Aug. 21 against Westcliff University.
— Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director