Cougars Fall Short Against No. 4 Mustangs
Head coach Joel McCartney’s new-look Cougars (8-4, 0-3 NSIC) matched SMSU (9-1, 2-1 NSIC) through the first set Tuesday night, opening the night with strong play despite losing 25-21, 25-16, 25-9 to a Southwest Minnesota State team that entered the match ranked No. 4 in the nation.
SMSU out-blocked USF just 2-1, but the Mustangs' scrappy defense forced the Cougars into 17 hitting errors, allowing SMSU to out-hit USF .370-.084 en route to the three-set win.
USF senior middle blocker Sarah Kohler came out strong for the Cougars, pounding out four kills in her first four swings in the first set, and it was the Cougars who jumped out to the early 16-10 lead on the strength of seven Mustang errors.
But the No. 4 Mustangs quickly turned a corner in the frame and used an eight-point run to move in front, 18-16 and force a USF timeout. After the timeout, a kill by Chanda Goedken coupled with a Mustang blocking error knotted the match at 18 before SMSU snagged the next four points to take a 22-18 lead.
A service error ended the Mustangs’ run and gave the side out back to USF, but SMSU blasted a kill on the very next point to maintain their four-point edge. A kill by Johnson would bring USF within three points at 24-21, but SMSU closed out the final point to take the set 25-21.
The Cougars came out swinging again in the second frame, as they extended points with digs and Reed continued to create good scoring opportunities for the front line. The Cougars led 8-6 as three different attackers posted kills in the first fourteen points. It appeared as if the momentum might send the Cougars to the second set win, but the Mustangs responded with an 8-1 run to take a five point lead at 14-9. USF continued to fight but could not shrink its deficit to below three points. For the remainder of the set, the SMSU lead fluctuated between three and nine points and the Mustangs eventually took the second set, 25-16.
Out of the break, SMSU continued to play well and used the momentum gained from the first two sets to take a significant lead that reached as many as 15 points at 23-8. Following a kill by Kohler, a service error finished off a 25-9 third-set win clinching the victory for the Mustangs.
Goedken led the way with six kills for the Cougars, but really set the tone defensively, posting a match-high seven digs to help set up the offense.
Johnson and Kohler finished with five kills apiece, while junior setter Alexa Reed contributed 19 assists, two kills and three digs. Junior libero Andrea Odbert shored up the back row with three digs and an assist.
USF returns home this weekend. The Cougars begin action on Friday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs before finishing the weekend of league action on Saturday, Sept. 22, at 4 p.m. against the Huskies of St. Cloud State.