SIOUX CITY, Iowa – It was a tough first day of competition for Missouri Baptist women’s volleyball in day one of the 2012 NAIA Volleyball National Championship presented by CNOS Foundation. After winning the first set in a thrilling 27-25 finish, the Lee University Flames came back to win three straight in dominant fashion, handing the Spartans a 1-3 loss on Tuesday.
As the first set got underway, MBU found itself in a hole, but quickly climbed out of it. The team was down by as many as three before taking a 16-15 lead thanks to an attack error on Lee’s Marija Zelenovic. Lee continued to pressure MBU forcing several lead changes, but the Spartans persevered against the ninth-ranked team in the NAIA. After taking a 26-25 lead off an attack error by Irene Ojukwu, Missouri Baptist freshman Ally Krus dumped a ball down for the kill to complete the victory for her team 27-25.
The second set was a completely different story. Missouri Baptist struggled to put points on the board, allowing the Flames to build a massive 11-1 lead. As a team, the Spartans recorded a .000 attack percentage in the set, much of which was due to strong blocking by the Flames. Lee recorded 4.5 blocks in the set, making it difficult for MBU to get anything going as the team from Cleveland, Tenn., pulled away to a 25-15 win.
The third set did not go much better. Lee, led by Ojukwa (three kills, one assisted block) and junior middle blocker Paula Martins (three kills, two assisted blocks), pulled-out to another big lead. After building an 11-3 advantage, Missouri Baptist again found itself playing from behind. Lee’s defense at the net led to several scoring opportunities and all but shut down the Spartan offense. MBU was held to an .026 attack percentage on the way to a 17-25 loss.
Heading into the fourth set, Missouri Baptist looked good in the beginning. Lee jumped out to a 4-2 lead but MBU tied it at four on a kill by Hannah Carey as the team looked much more poised than in the previous two sets. It was at this point, however, that the Flames pulled away. Lee went on a five-point run to take a 10-5 lead, which they held the rest of the way. Despite Carey’s four kills in the set, the Flames’ Martins and Zelenovic combined for 12 of their own as they dispatched the Spartans 25-14.
For the Flames, Zelenovic was outstanding finishing with 18 kills, four assisted blocks and one solo block with an attack percentage of .341. Lee also capitalized on the outstanding play of junior setter Camil Martinez. The native of the Dominican Republic posted 49 assists, averaging over 12 assists per set.
Missouri Baptist was led by Madeline Nesbit with 10 kills and 2 assisted block on the day.
Overall, team blocking and offensive lapses were the story. The Flames recorded 15.5 blocks in the match as opposed to MBU’s 3. Only two Spartans had an attack percentage above .200. Cassie Nesbit and Laura King both recorded one kill with an attack percentage of .500.
If Missouri Baptist is to rebound from this loss, the team will need to do it against a very strong team from Biola University. The Eagles have spent the majority of the season ranked fourth in the NAIA and is the highest-ranked team that Missouri Baptist has faced since a 1-3 loss to No. 3 Columbia College on Oct. 22.
The time of Wednesday’s match is set for 1:00 p.m. at the Tyson Events Center. The game will be streamed live, courtesy of the Biola University Department of Athletics. A link is available on mbuspartans.com.