By Dave Wagner
The first big step in Eastern New Mexico University’s bid to wrest the Lone Star Conference South Division volleyball championship after an 0-2 start was passed Thursday night.
Coming up big on the big points, ENMU edged South-leading Abilene Christian 30-28, 25-30, 32-30, 30-28 Thursday night before an announced crowd of 1,147 at Greyhound Arena.
The Zias (19-6, 4-2 South) have four matches left in division play — including key tests against Angelo State on Saturday and West Texas A&M on Tuesday — but now have the head-to-head games tiebreaker (5-4) on the Wildcats (20-7, 5-1). ACU won the first meeting at Abilene in five games.
Eastern has home tests against Angelo State on Saturday and West Texas A&M on Tuesday before ending its South slate at Tarleton State and Texas A&M-Kingsville in early November.
ACU, meantime, plays at WT on Saturday before finishing division play with three home matches.
“I was happy with our effort tonight; it was a big win for us,” ENMU coach Mike Maguire said. “We answered a lot of their runs. There were times when it looked like they might run away, but we hung in there.”
Junior middle blocker Lindsey Schiely converted 16 kills and senior outside hitter Anna Bellum added 14, including match point on a ball which was tipped around the net several times before she put it away. Senior Jessica Weeks had a match-high 18 digs, while Grace George collected seven block assists and Emilie Rodman had six.
“It was a great (match),” Schiely said. “We pulled together, and I was impressed with every aspect of our game tonight.
“Our defense was all over the court. It seemed like everywhere the ball was, there was Jessica Weeks.”
The Zias got off to fast starts in Games 1 and 3 before weathering ACU comebacks. They trailed 28-26 before scoring the final four points of the first game — two on kills by Kelley McGinty, and the last one on a double-block by Bellum and Grace George against ACU standout Michelle Bernhardt.
Then, after Bernhardt kills twice gave the Wildcats one-point leads late in the third game, the Zias rallied for the final two points on a double-block credited to Olivia Boan and Schiely and a service ace by Schiely.
Bernhardt, one of the LSC’s top players, converted 22 kills for the Wildcats.
Schiely said she was relieved the Zias didn’t have to go to a fifth game.
“We wanted to finish it in four,” she said. “The last time, we fell apart in the fifth game against them.”
ACU coach Brek Horn credited the enthusiastic crowd with influencing the outcome.
“It’s always nice to be at home,” she said. “When it came down to crunch times, they were more confident than we were.
“I thought they (Zias) passed the ball well tonight. They had better ball control than we did.”
ENMU 3, Abilene Christian 1
ACU 28 30 30 28
ENMU 30 25 32 30
Kills — Abilene Christian, Michelle Bernhardt 22, Amanda Slate 16, Abbie Lowry 15. Eastern New Mexico, Lindsay Schiely 16, Anna Bellum 14. Block solos — Abilene Christian, Slate 1. Eastern New Mexico, none. Block assists — Abilene Christian, Slate 4, Lowry 3, Sophia Kindred 2, Lindsey Martin 2. Eastern New Mexico, Grace George 7, Schiely 5, Margie Goble 3. Set assists — Abilene Christian, Martin 54, Eastern New Mexico, Goble 26, Amber McCarthy 20. Digs — Abilene Christian, Bernhardt 16, Kellen Morrow 16, Callie Delabano 15, Martin 14, Malia Plumlee 10. Eastern New Mexico, Jessica Weeks 18, Bellum 15, Kelley McGinty 10. Aces — Abilene Christian, Slate 4, Martin 1. Eastern New Mexico, Bellum 2, Weeks 2, four tied with 1. Records — Abilene Christian 20-7 (5-1), Eastern New Mexico 19-6 (4-2). T — 2:01. A — 1,147.