Story by Jason Strickland, Sports Editor
The No. 6 Jennies volleyball team (23-4, 15-1) will be on the road on Friday to face a team that hasn’t lost a set for nearly a month.
The last time No. 4 Nebraska-Kearney (28-2, 14-1) lost a set was when it lost 3-1 at No. 15 Truman State (25-5, 13-3) on Oct. 12. The Lopers have won 30 consecutive sets since then.
The Jens are coming off a 3-1 win at Truman last Saturday.
Freshman libero Annie Reilly, who is this week’s MIAA Specialist of the Week, said they are developing good chemistry right now.“Especially the past couple of weeks, we’ve been really focusing on playing as one team, and we did it really well at Truman,” Reilly said.
The win against Truman was Central’s seventh in a row. During most of the streak, the Jens have had to change the lineup some because sophomore hitter Aubri Renshaw was removed from the team before the second win of the streak.
“Aubri’s decisions that she made were in direct contrast to what the team as a whole needed her to do,” head coach Flip Piontek said. “Her decisions really placed her in a position that didn’t allow us to continue to have her on the team.”
Senior Hillary McCormick was moved to an outside hitter spot from the middle hitter position. Piontek said he also decided to have McCormick stand next to senior Lisa Moore at the right front hitter spot, instead of by senior setter Julia Bates.
“That seemed to be the lineup that gave us the most fluid teamwork, so that’s where we will start with this weekend, so we will see what happens,” Piontek said.
After the 6 p.m. Nebraska-Kearney match on Friday, the Jens will play in Hays, Kan. at 11 a.m. against Fort Hays State (23-12, 7-9) on Saturday. Piontek said he is more concerned how his team will play on Saturday than against the fourth-ranked team in the country on Friday.
“Win or lose Friday night, the carryover from Saturday is what I’m more worried about as a coach,” Piontek said. “You trust your players at this time of the year to understand the significance of every match, but there is going to be a very big temptation to let the emotion of Friday night drain us for Saturday. We are going to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Friday’s match will be the Jens’ ninth against a ranked opponent, so senior hitter Bradye Peniston said they are ready to face anyone.
“We played such tough teams at the beginning, that we know we can compete with them now,” Peniston said. “And that was at the beginning. We’ve grown so much since then, so it’s that much more of a boost to be able to have the confidence in ourselves and our teammates that we can compete and beat teams that are ranked.”
If the Jens win both matches, they will win the regular season MIAA Championship. If the Jens lose on Friday, either Washburn (29-1, 14-1) or Nebraska-Kearney will be regular season champs.
The top four seeds in the MIAA Tournament will host the first round matches on Tuesday. The highest remaining seed after that will host the rest of the tournament Nov. 16-17.
The top four seeds are already set in terms of the teams (Central Missouri, Nebraska-Kearney, Washburn and Truman), but not who gets what seed.
Being a senior, Peniston said there wouldn’t be anything better than being able to play more matches at home.
“Being able to play here again would be the best thing possible,” Peniston said. “I’d rather be home than anywhere else, so if we keep working hard as we are, we have a really good chance to host.”