The Maverick volleyball team earned its first win of the season Friday in the opening match of the 2016 Omaha Classic, the first time the annual tournament has been hosted at Baxter Arena. Omaha was only able to play two matches at the brand new arena due to construction on the interior and scheduling conflicts with hockey late in the fall. Last weekend the Mavs finally got the chance to really break in their new building with five home matchups in the span of three days.
After being swept by Big 12 foe Iowa State, the Mavericks had to rebound quickly on Friday, and rebound they did. The Mavs won their first game of the season, and followed it up that night with a second. On Saturday, Omaha tried avenging a pair of losses last season to Drake and University of Missouri-Kansas City, but failed dropping both games. The weekend did however provide much-needed experience against tough competition which is just what this young squad needed.
“Right now in practice we really can’t even have 6-on-6 because we don’t have enough healthy people for that,” head coach Rose Shires said. “So literally it’s been like five practices in a row here and the opportunity for us to get better.”
Mackenzie Horkey was the catalyst who led the Mavs in Friday’s opening match against Ball State. Horkey had a career-best 27 kills, the most for any Maverick since 2011. She also had 14 digs for her first double-double effort of the season, and scored eight of Omaha’s 15 points in the deciding set.
Freshmen Ashley Smith and Olivia Spanton roamed the back row, still adjusting to the Division I pace, but acquiring a total of 36 digs between them. Meagen Roth also had a game to remember putting up a career-best 15 kills and 19 digs for her first ever collegiate double-double.
Later that night, Kayla Torson and Roth had double-double performances to lead Omaha in another 3-2 win over Abilene Christian. O’Shaughnessy had 54 assists, two shy of what she had in the afternoon, which was 56 against Ball State. An unfortunate note for Maverick fans, Mackenzie Horkey left the game with a knee injury, and sat out of the team’s games Saturday. Shires described Horkey’s injury on Friday as “serious and likely season-ending,” which is surely not good news for Maverick fans.
Omaha squared off with Drake on Saturday, trying to avenge a loss last season where the Mavs dropped the contest against the Bulldogs in five sets. Half of the Dogs’ starting lineup hailed from the Omaha metro area, making it an interesting homecoming for the away team.
Shires sent out a younger starting lineup, sitting the likes of returning starters O’Shaughnessy and Horkey, who was in uniform, but never took off her long-sleeved warm-up.
The Mavs tried battling back in the first set reeling off four straight points late to get within four, but ultimately lost 25-20. The second set, Omaha scored five straight points to make the game 20-16, but the Bulldogs stormed back tying the game then taking the lead. The Mavs would eventually pull it out after O’Shaughnessy, who didn’t sit long, served the final two possessions helping the Mavs even the match 1-1. Drake started the third set out on a 10-0 run, nearly extinguishing any Maverick momentum from their second set win. The Bulldogs cruised to take the set and the match lead, 2-1. The fourth set, and match went to the Bulldogs.
The Mavs dropped their final matchup of the tournament to UMKC in three straight sets. Tough breaks have been the story of the program dating back to last season from bad breaks on the court, to injuries in practice in the offseason, but Shires is still leading a positive locker room.
“I’ve got setters hitting right side, I’ve got defensive players in the front row, we’ve got people having to do things that is not their forte, but it will increase our volleyball IQ and it’ll increase our competitive level,” Shires said.
The team is already at a disadvantage due to its inexperience and younger players thrust into starting roles, but injuries, especially to now two former starters will hurt the Mavs moving forward this season, but may benefit them in the future seasons to come.
“We have to really as a team, as a program, see this season in a whole different way, and I think we have to reevaluate what our vision is and what our mission will be,” Shires said. “We’re creating a culture, and that culture is how we fight and compete, and put our best on the floor no matter what the odds.”