Editor’s Note: Above image of Corinne Novak provided by the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- Though tested at times, the seventh-ranked UMHB volleyball team managed to stay undefeated on Wednesday night, besting the visiting McMurry Warhawks in back-to-back three set sweeps.
“We played well enough to win, and I’m grateful and the kids are grateful for that,” said UMHB head coach Mark Pryor postgame. “It did reveal some things that we can work on. I’m excited to get back in the gym on Friday, to really get a chance to evaluate, game prep and tweak a couple things here or there.”
After winning the first set of the opening match 25-20 behind five kills from setter/outside hitter Hannah Frasca, the Crusaders dug themselves into a second set hole, falling behind 13-4 after McMurry mounted a 7-0 run. In Pryor’s words, his squad showed “a lot of grit”, fighting back and proving why it had lost just one set so far this season. The Cru put together several solid defensive stands, as middle hitter Kayla Janikula notched a kill to ignite UMHB’s 5-1 scoring run to make the score 14-9. Though UMHB would struggle to regain the lead, the Cru put seven straight points on the board to take its first lead of the set, going up 20-19 on an attack error by McMurry’s Tyler Richardson.
“We were down 13-4 in the second set and we showed some grit,” said Pryor. “That was really nice to see. We didn’t stop, we kept chipping away and the kids kind of dug themselves out of it. It was nice to see that we have that capability.”
That capability would show itself on several more occassion trhouhgout the night, as the Cru let talent and team chemistry take over as they edged out the Warhawks 25-22 in a decisive third set that saw the two opponents counter back and forth.
Senior outside hitter Corinne Novak, who was only getting started offensively, tallied her seventh kill of the night to seal UMHB’s victory in the first match. Frasca looked sharp in the opening match, posting a team-high 14 kills along with a superb defensive performance and a team-best 15 digs.
UMHB, with its early morning practices, and grueling preseason workouts paying off, showed little fatigue in the second match, also a 3-0 sweep. The Cru actually improved its hitting percentage from .221 in the first match to .229 in the second, something Pryor was pleased to see.
“Our hitting percentage was better in the second match,” remarked Pryor. “That’s usually not the case for a lot of teams, they tend to wear out. We actually got better.”
The Cru came out firing after a brief intermission, going up 10-3 early in the first set on a kill from Novak. McMurry tried to call a timeout and bring players off the bench, but neither one of those things remedied the problems the Warhawks faced, as UMHB earned a 25-11 opening set win.
The second set actually followed the pattern of the second set of the first match as McMurry took back the lead three times, holding a 17-12 advantage midway through. Frasca, Noavak and Kylie Metcalf quickly countered for the Cru and a block from Janikula and Frasca gave UMHB a 23-22 lead. A McMurry timeout did not slow the Cru, as Janikula and Frasca again teamed up, this time for a match-clinching block to earn the 25-22 victory.
The Warhawks would fight to the finish, but in the third set, the Cru again came up victorious, winning 25-17, highlighted by a 5-0 run midway through the final set.
According to Pryor, Novak had her best offensive game of the season so far, leading the team with nine kills.
“Corinne hit the best she’d ever hit this year in the second match,” said Pryor.
Frasca had 15 more digs along with four blocks and six kills, in what turned out to be a phenomenal night for the freshman.
“She’s one of those kids that we knew when we got her we were excited about what she was going to be able to do,” said Pryor. “She’s got great skill, she’s a great athlete, but I think the thing that is most fun about her is that she’s a genuinely happy kid that loves playing hard and it’s infectious. There is no error of superiority with her. Sometimes it’s hard to find kids like that.”
Also worth noting was Janikula’s presence at the net, as the junior logged a team-high six blocks in that second duel with McMurry.
The road does not get any easier for the Cru, who leads the West Division with a perfect 6-0 record. Two matches at Concordia (TX) loom next Tuesday, as the Tornadoes were a team that was slotted to finish No. 2 in the West in the 2021 ASC Preseason Poll.
“Concordia is coming up,” said Pryor, “and they’re good. They’re going to give us some trouble. We’re going to have to be ready to go. It’s going to be a very different environment down there with no fans. It will be their first home match, they are excited. The biggest thing for us is rest, recovery, and review; the three Rs.
“I think this might be a gentle reminder that we still have a long way to go. This is exciting, it not upsetting. We just got two sweeps, we’re grateful for that. But there is definitely room for improvement. That is so good to see, we’re not close to topping out as far as our development.”