By Kate Bowling, Contributor
After the season starting home opener, the Mavs traveled to Ames, Iowa for their first of many road series as part of their non-conference schedule
Iowa State, Northern Illinois and Tennessee were the slated opponets. UNO had hard-hitting competition in the Iowa State Challenge tournament but hung in there for 1-2 finish, taking the win against Tennessee.
The tournament was played at the historic Hilton Coliseum. In the first game the Mavs were swept 3-0 against Iowa State. Junior outside hitter Kelley Wollak led the Mavs in kills with 10. It was a tough start for UNO.
“The first match against ISU, no one was pleased with how we performed,” Head Coach Rose Shires said.
The Mavs had little time to dwell on the loss with Northen Illinois on deck the next day. Despite getting sweepted, the Mavs doubled NIU in blocks, for the third double-digit team blocking game of this season.
“In our second match, it became a really completive battle,” Shires said. “Even though we lost that game, we gained confidence in the Northern Illinois match.”
Mackenzie Horkey lead the Mavs with eight kills, six digs and one block came as the freshman, outside hitter
Shires said that the team’s play escalated in game two, which led to a rise in confidence and performance.
“We really took a lot of time to learn from that situation and those environments,” Shires said. “We know what our signature is, our dig transition game and our blocking game. And that part of our game has to set the tone for the rest of our game.”
In their final game Saturday night against Tennessee, the Mavs finished with a 3-0 sweep.
Once again, Wollak paved the way with nine kills, eight digs and two service aces. Freshmen Amanda Conlin and Mackenzie Horkey clouded any perceived age gap with six kills a piece.
Tennessee had a substatnical size advantage on UNO, but the Mavs style of play contained it.
“We disorganized them with our service game and didn’t allow them to get into a rhythm,” Shires said. “Our blocking game nullified their height and reach advantage and we out blocked them 10 to 4.”
The tournament proved successful, not only with a great win, but also an assessment on the team’s stance this season.
“This is one of the few times that I had seen this team step up to the challenge when being pressed and under pressure get the win,” Shires said.
The win proved the Mavs could hang with high level competition.
“It’s one thing to do it when you think you’re equal to a team, but to do it against a Big 12, Big 10 or SEC team, that ability to finish teams off, [It’s] what we’ve been working on,” Shires said. “To not just be on the court with those top opponents, but to compete to win and when we’re in that position, to finish teams off.”
Winning early in the season is a key ingredient for the Mavs to establish confidence going forward.
“Now that were going to be playing further away from home, I think it does give confidence. It shows the players that they can do it. If you know can, it’s much easier to find that inside to make it happen,” Shires said.
Shires hopes it’s a feeling that will stick
“If you’re always searching for what it feels like, what it like to play at that level, than it’s very difficult to create that. When you feel it, it’s much easier to recreate it and be in that zone.”
Shires hopes the Mavs can continue the killer instinct.
“We want to make playing at this level more habitual and easier to obtain as far as the mental focus to get to that level,” Shires said.
UNO travels to St. Louis this weekend to take on Saint Louis, Air Force and Canisius.