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Home court has been good to the Cougars

The University of Minnesota, Morris volleyball team is now 7-1 at home with wins over Bethany Lutheran and Martin Luther.

The Cougars improved to 3-1 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and are 9-10 overall on the season.

UM-Morris 3

Bethany Lutheran 1

At the PE Center Friday night, the Cougar women's volleyball team held off a feisty Bethany Lutheran team in four sets.

In the first set, Morris jumped out to a comfortable lead early behind good serving runs from senior Colleen Hermes, first-year player Allie Humphrey, and sophomore Natalie Thomas. After building up a four-point lead, junior Sam Pfannenstein put the Vikings away with a four-point service run, two of those on aces. Pfannenstein served five aces on the night.

Bethany Lutheran rallied in the second jumping out to a 6-1 lead. The Cougars struggled to gain ground and finally surged when Humphrey took serving and ran six straight points, cutting the Vikings' lead to one. From that point, the teams went back and forth exchanging rally points. Bethany Lutheran's Vanessa Harkins served out the match for a 25-23 win.

Early in the third set, with Hermes on serve and strong hitting from first-year player Justine Banken, the Cougars opened a 15-8 lead. The Vikings rallied to cut the margin to 23-19, but would get no closer.

The fourth set surged back and forth with neither team able to establish a meaningful run of points until Pfannenstein took serve again at 17-15 and ran off three points for a five-point lead. The Cougars never looked back.

Both teams defensively were strong at the net, with the Vikings holding the Cougars to a .169 hitting percentage, and the Cougars returning the favor at .106 for Bethany Lutheran. On the backline Hermes, Thomas, Jordan Olerud, and Lindsay Jacobson had a collective 60 digs in the match.

On offense, Banken led the Cougars with 14 kills. She was one of four Cougars in double-digits. The others were Olerud (13), Humphrey (10), and Megan Theis (10).

In the end, it was the Cougars slight edge in attacks (183-141) and attack percentage that made the difference. After the match, Banken said the edge in hitting was the result of practice.

"Tonight, what really helped us, [in practice] we worked on play hits and special runs... and that really boosted our confidence," she said.

UM-Morris 3

Martin Luther 1

For the second time in two nights, the Cougar volleyball team held off a scrappy opponent for a 3-1 win, defeating the Knights of Martin Luther College at the PE Center.

In the first set, the teams traded rallies back and forth with neither team able to open a lead greater than three points. Late mistakes by the Knights was the difference. With Martin Luther leading 21-19, a service error by the Knights and serving ace by Olerud tied the game. Attack errors from the Knights gave the Cougars a two-point lead at 23-21. A Knight serving error closed the set at 25-23.

The Cougars appeared to be running away with the second set when they opened a 20-13 lead. But the Knights rallied behind long serving runs and tied the game at 23. The teams traded rally points until junior Lindsay Jacobson came on serve. Banken closed the set with a kill for a 29-27 decision.

Having found some momentum in the second set, Martin Luther won the third 25-19.

The Cougars struggled to distance themselves in the fourth set. The teams were tied at 15 when Michelle Hanson served four straight points, aided by kills from Allie Humphrey and Jen Bissel. That small jump proved to be the difference. Another kill from Bissel closed the match.

At the net, the Cougars were led by Theis (14 kills) and Banken (13 kills). Defensively, Jacobson and Thomas led with 16 and 10 digs respectively.

This week they travel for games at St. Scholastica (Thursday) and Northland College (Friday).