By Dave Wagner
Already assured a spot in the Lone Star Conference tournament, the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team picked up a shot of confidence Saturday in its LSC South Division finale.
The Zias rallied back from a pair of one-game deficits, riding a strong overall defensive performance and 25 kills from junior outside hitter Anna Bellum to a 17-30, 30-25, 27-30, 30-23, 15-12 win over Abilene Christian at Greyhound Arena, their sixth win in seven five-game matches this year.
ENMU (15-14, 7-3 South), which clinched a conference tournament berth with a three-game sweep of Angelo State on Friday, is still likely to be the division’s third seed in the conference get-together Nov. 13-15 at West Texas A&M in Canyon. ACU (22-10, 5-3) will have the tiebreaker for second place — a 5-3 edge in games head-to-head — if it can beat South tailenders Tarleton State and Texas A&M-Kingsville at home this week.
Still, Eastern is starting to find its groove and junior Kelley McGinty said she’s not ready to give up on a higher finish.
“We’re definitely really excited about the possibility of going in as the second (seed),” said McGinty, a junior college transfer from Washington who led the Zias with 20 digs. “We have a lot of heart. We figure if we’re going to go five games, we might as well win. No one on this team gives up.”
Bellum, who also had 13 digs for the Zias, collected six of her kills in an 18-6 run in the fourth game that turned a four-point deficit into an eight-point cushion.
Freshman Grace George had 13 kills and nine block assists, and junior Emilie Rodman added 11 kills.
“I thought defense played a big role at the end, and our blockers stepped it up,” said sophomore Olivia Boan, a Portales High grad who garnered 14 digs. “This helps our confidence going into the tournament.”
The Wildcats looked like worldbeaters in dominating the first game, but their play slipped and the Zias controlled most of the second game.
“All I can say is we played pretty good at the right time,” ENMU coach Mike Maguire said. “Abilene really fought hard. I thought we got some big blocks (in the fifth game).
“I’m pretty pleased with our weekend. The girls knew what was at stake, and they fought hard.”
ENMU has climbed over the .500 mark for the first time this season by winning eight of its last 10 matches.
“We came out really slow at the beginning of the season, but now everyone’s adjusting,” said Boan, the only current active player who played on last year’s squad.
Senior outside hitter Haylee Hartline led four ACU players in double figures in kills with 19. The Wildcats had hopes of winning a division title over the weekend, but their chances disappeared after a three-game loss on Friday at WT.
“We know this road trip is a tough one for us,” fifth-year ACU coach Brek Horn said. “We were in it in the fifth game; we just didn’t capitalize. They (Zias) put up a great block against us. I give credit to them.
“I think we’ll defend our homecourt (next week), and we’ll be fine. But you never know.”
ENMU 3, Angelo State 0 (Friday) — The Zias locked up their 11th trip to the LSC tournament in 13 years with a 30-28, 31-29, 30-19 win over the Rambelles behind 12 kills from Bellum, including two to wrap up the second game.
Eastern scored 10 of the first 11 points in game 3, and ASU never made a run.
Rodman added 11 kills and McGinty supplied 19 digs for ENMU.
ASU (10-20, 3-5), which lost in four games at WT on Saturday, got 16 kills from junior outside hitter Nicole Stoffel.