By Dave Wagner, Freedom New Mexico
There was more than one moment Saturday when Eastern New Mexico University looked like it was down for the count against East Central.
Then things turned, the Zias held on after nearly blowing an 11-point lead in game 3 and the bounces went their way late in an 18-25, 15-25, 25-23, 25-22, 20-18 win in the Zias’ own tournament.
ENMU finished 2-2 in the six-team event, although it actually played Kansas-based Newman on Thursday and lost in a five-set heartbreaker.
The Zias (4-10) came back later Saturday to claim a 25-23, 25-21, 25-18 win over Grand Canyon.
“Coming off three losses, we were a little down,” junior libero Caitlin Murphy said after the East Central match. “But you have to take every day as a new day. We just got our momentum back.”
The Zias led 18-7 in the third game after a kill by sophomore Veronica Valdez capped off a 14-4 run. Then the Tigers (3-7) mounted a comeback, closing to within a point twice late before freshman Jessica King’s kill got ENMU on the board.
Game 4 went back and fourth, but when ENMU’s Vanessa Wilcox and Grace Brandt teamed up to block East Central’s Katy Fields to tie the score and force a sideout, the Zias finished out strong.
Their last point came on another combo block, this one by Valdez and King against the Tigers’ Jacqueline Sparks.
“I think we were maybe just getting tired of losing,” ENMU coach Kim Falkenhagen said. “We just decided to get after it.”
East Central was poised to pull out the win in the fifth game, opening a 10-5 lead, but senior outside hitter Nicole Vanderploeg had two kills in a 4-0 run. East Central appeared to win 16-14 on an ace by Sparks, but the ball deflected off a teammate in the front row.
The service error created a sideout and tied the score. Trailing 18-17, ENMU pulled it out on consecutive kills by King, Valdez and Vanderploeg.
King had 12 kills and four block assists for ENMU.
Murphy, who had a team-high 19 digs, said it has been tough sledding for the team, which snapped a six-match losing streak with Saturday’s early win.
“”It makes you fight and it makes you go for everything,” she said. “It may not be pretty volleyball at times, but it’s getting the job done.”
Sparks, a junior outside hitter, collected 19 kills and junior middle blocker Emily Holombek added 18 for the Tigers, who went 1-3 for the weekend.
“All credit to Eastern New Mexico,” ECU coach Dave Thorn said. “They made plays when they needed to. It seemed like all the lucky plays were going their way, but they created some of those.”
Against Grand Canyon (5-7), Valdez had nine kills and five block assists for the Zias, who fell behind early in each of the first two games before rallying.
Sophomore Grace Brandt, filling in for injured starter Karen McIntyre at setter, had 23 assists against the Antelopes after compiling 32 in the first match.
McIntyre went down with what appeared to be an ankle injury early in the East Central match, although Falkenhagen and ENMU’s training staff refused to reveal the exact injury.