Coyotes down Swedes in five-set thriller on senior night

Elizabeth Hardacre (SR/Kensington, Kan.)’s initial joy was matched by a deep feeling of sadness.

Her 10th kill of the match had given Kansas Wesleyan a 15-7 victory in the fifth set and hard-fought 3-2 Kansas Conference win (25-18, 25-22, 23-25, 20-25, 15-7) over arch rival Bethany in front of a large Senior Night crowd Wednesday inside Mabee Arena.

But her achievement elicited a wide range of emotions.

“It was sad but I was really happy,” said Hardacre, one of nine Coyotes who played the final home match of their collegiate careers. “I was happy that we played for our team. Sad that it’s over but happy that it happened.”

Hardacre and fellow seniors Allisan McGowan (SR/Pratt, Kan.), Cortney Hanna (SR/Lawrence, Kan.), Delaney Nash (SR/Salina, Kan.), Maddy Beckett (SR/Halstead, Kan.), Alexis Utz (JR/Kansas City, Mo.), Chelsea James (SR/Wichita, Kan.), Morgan Bryand (SR/Wichita, Kan.) and junior Emily Fernandes, who will graduate early, were recognized during a pregame ceremony.

It was a prelude to a wild rollercoaster ride that was the game.

KWU took control late in the first set, outscoring the Swedes 9-3 down the stretch. The Coyotes trailed 21-19 in the second set but closed on a 6-1 run.

Wesleyan appeared to be in control in the third set leading 13-9 but Bethany scored seven straight points for a 16-13 lead. The Coyotes battled back and led 23-22 before the Swedes scored the final three points.

KWU had a 14-11 lead in the fourth set but seven unanswered points gave Bethany an 18-14 advantage. The Coyotes got within 19-18 before the Swedes closed with a 6-2 surge.

The fifth and final set was all KWU and Rylee Serpan (FR/Spring Hill, Kan.). The Coyotes bolted to a quick 11-1 lead. Bethany got no closer than seven before Hardacre’s kill ended it. Serpan had four kills in the set.

“It was just the fact that we decided to play for the seniors,” Hardacre said. “Our class has grown so close that we just want to play for each other. The crowd was incredible.”

Staying focused and positive were the key.

“We talk a lot about the mental game,” Hardacre said. “Just being mentally tough and strong and being able to lean on each other for support when those runs happened. I think it was just a matter of letting the two (sets) go that we lost and then coming back in the fifth and really doing it.”

KWU coach Jessica Biegert credited her team’s resilience and play of a couple of younger players.

“They played for each other; (the underclassmen) know how much this means to the seniors,” she said. “It was really fun to see them step up and light the fire for them.”

Serpan and Melinna Schumann (SO/Sabetha, Kan.) were the youngsters toting the biggest flamethrowers. Serpan finished with a whopping 23 kills on a .378 hitting percentage while Schumann, an outside hitter, led the defense with 28 digs that kept crucial rallies alive.

“I’m really proud of her,” Hardacre said of Serpan. “I think she’s really coming out of her shell, she’s obviously been playing really good. I really don’t know what we would have done without her.”

Biegert was happy to see “Roxy” Serpan play so well.

“Roxy is her competitive alter ego,” Biegert said with a smile. “When she needs to step in she’s not Rylee, she’s Roxy and that’s when she goes off and scores all the points. She’s really close to the seniors and she really wanted it for them. She did a really good job of keeping them up and playing a little more relaxed.

“(Schumann) was the leader that was lighting the fire and it was really good to see her competitive side come out.”

The Swedes played well defensively at the net finishing with 30 block assists.

“They were super aggressive like they had nothing to lose,” Biegert said, “and then we started playing safe. They started blocking us and we didn’t cover because we’re used to scoring but we weren’t scoring.”

Beckett added eight kills as KWU hit .141 for the game. Josie Deckinger (JR/Wichita, Kan.) had 40 assists while Utz had six of KWU’s 18 block assists. Libero Kelsey Hund had 25 digs.

The Coyotes conclude the regular season with a match against McPherson at 7 p.m. Saturday inside the Sport Center in McPherson. The Bulldogs lost to Ottawa 3-0 Wednesday.