TOPEKA, Kan. – The third-ranked Lady Blues won the first two sets and had a chance to clinch the match late but fell 3-2 (22-25, 18-25, 25-13, 27-25, 19-17) to No. 4 Nebraska-Kearney Saturday night in Lee Arena.
The win gave the Lopers (30-2, 16-1 MIAA) the MIAA regular season championship in their first year in the conference. The Lady Blues dropped to 30-2 and 15-2 in the MIAA while their school-record streak of 51 straight home wins came to an end.
The Lady Blues will have a chance to start a new streak as they host an MIAA first round match Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Lee Arena against Fort Hays State. The Lopers will also host a match Tuesday against Central Oklahoma and will host the semifinals Friday and the final on Saturday if they advance.
Hillary Hughes had 18 kills and a season-high 21 digs for her third straight double-double as she played her final regular season match in Lee Arena. Jessica Fey had 15 kills, eight digs and three blocks and Jessica Kopp had eight kills. The three seniors were honored before the match in Senior Day ceremonies.
Kelsey Lewis added 13 kills and 14 digs for a double-double and Marissa Cox had 11 kills.
The Lady Blues went up 7-3 in the fifth set but the Lopers were able to come back and tie it three different times at 9, 11 and 13. Kopp then set down a kill to get Washburn to match point at 15-14.
The Lopers then scored two straight to get their first chance at match point. Washburn answered with two straight for another chance at the match but the Lopers scored three straight, the last on a kill from Ariel Krolikowski, to clinch the title.
Krolikowski ended with 20 kills, 18 digs and three blocks. Three other Lopers joined her with double-figure kills.
The Lady Blues hit over .275 in the first two sets and kept UNK without a block as they took a 2-0 lead. The Lopers got all 14 of the blocks in the final three sets, starting with six in the third. Washburn hit -.057 in that set.
The fourth set remained close but the Lopers never trailed after taking a 4-0 lead. Washburn was able to get within three at 11-8 after a kill from Lewis, but UNK scored three straight to go up, 14-8.
The Lady Blues answered that with a 6-1 run to get within a point. UNK erased that with a 5-1 run to go back up by five. After getting to set point at 24-22, Washburn scored two straight on a kill from Fey and an ace from Lewis to tie it.
Nebraska-Kearney got to set point again and Hughes answered with a kill that tied it at 25. The Lopers recorded two straight kills after that to force Washburn's fifth five-set match this year.
Washburn hit .159 in the match while UNK had a .183 attack percentage. Each team had 111 digs and UNK edged Washburn in kills, 70-67. Washburn had eight blocks.
Abby Wittman led Washburn with 43 assists and she added 22 assists for a double-double. Courtney Churchman had 23 digs to lead the defense.