The volleyball was served over the net. A dig sent the ball 15 feet into the air and a soft set preceded a mighty spike from Mackenzie Horkey and the Omaha Mavericks. It was textbook. It was easy, almost effortless. And it went on point… after point… after point.
On Sept. 22, Omaha volleyball opened up conference play with a match against South Dakota State (SDSU) at Baxter Arena. It seemed more like a business meeting than a game, though. The Mavericks swept the Jackrabbits in under an hour and a half. Just in time to celebrate Head Coach Rose Shires’ birthday.
A long preseason, which consisted of a treacherous non-conference schedule, accumulated to this point—conference season. Shires, and her senior setter and captain Sydney O’Shaughnessy have both stated that the goal for this season is to compete and win the Summit League. In their first game to showcase their desire to make that goal happen, they made it look like a walk in the park.
“I was very happy with how we performed. From beginning to end we stayed focused and consistent. We really worked hard to be a really good team,” said Shires.
UNO never trailed in sets two or three, and won the match 25-15, 25-17 and 25-15. Mackenzie Horkey led the team with a double-double, picking up a dozen kills and digs. Abby Bergsten matched her season high in kills with 15. The dominance came from everyone on the Mavericks’ squad, though. One of the reasons Omaha has found so much success has to be attributed to finally getting all their players back from injuries.
“When everyone is healthy and everyone is physically capable, it makes our opponent’s job really tough because they can’t just key-in on two or three players,” said Shires. “Abby is really steady and she was tonight as well. She hits above .200 consistently, and she always finds a way to score.”
Omaha provided everything fans wanted to see. It showcased plenty of power. Whoever O’Shaughnessy was setting would soar above the net and emphatically slam it off a body or to the floor for the kill. They also showed finesse and consistency. Above all, one point in particular showed their grit as a unit.
A weird deflection sent the ball deep over to the Omaha side where it appeared as it would drop in the back corner. Claire Mountjoy had other ideas, however. She sent herself sliding across the court and gave it all she had to keep the ball in the air. Unfortunately, she hit the ball a few feet further from the net. Already two hits deep, Omaha’s Meagen Roth was on a full sprint and five feet behind the end line when she flailed her arms and hit the ball over the net. A rattled SDSU team set themselves up for a kill but Bella Sade blocked the attempt, and the team and crowd went wild. That summed up the night. It really was perfection all around.
Conference season is just starting and the Mavericks head to the road for their next two matches. On Sept. 29 they will take on Western Illinois. They will then face Fort Wayne two days later. Shires acknowledged that while the win felt good, it’s now time for Omaha to take it a step further.
“Every match is important. Two big games next week and we’ll have the chance to solidify ourselves as contenders in the conference,” said Shires.
It seems like it’s been a long season, but it’s really just the beginning. The young team has already been through so much, and that surely accounts for some of their ability to battle and never quit. Shires knows her team is very capable, now it’s just time to go out and prove it.
“We’ve learned how to play on the road, now we need to learn how to finish on the road,” she added.