Emily Monson (SO/Cheney, Kan.) and her Kansas Wesleyan coach, Jessica Biegert, were thrilled to be back on a volleyball court again – the results of their two matches not necessarily the most important factor in the total scheme of things.
“When you’re out there it just kind of feels like everything’s back to normal,” said Monson, the Coyotes’ sophomore libero. “You don’t really think about everything that’s going on (in the world), you focus on the game and your teammates and the team across the net.”
Biegert, KWU’s second-year coach, agreed.
“You can tell they’re hungry and they’re hungry to be here,” she said following the Coyotes’ first two matches of the season Saturday in the KWU Invitational at Mabee Arena. “Without fans it’s still a good environment and there’s lots of volleyball going on, so it’s exciting to be in that atmosphere again.”
Indeed, after six months of lockdowns, closures, masks and social distancing the matches were a happy reminder of what life was like before the relentless COVID-19 pandemic effectively brought life to a halt in March.
“I know all of us in practice have really been pushing ourselves, but it’s nothing like actually being in a game,” Monson said. “I know all of us are really excited to actually be out on a court and playing against a different team.”
KWU opened the day with a 3-0 (26-24, 25-15, 25-15) victory over fellow Kansas Conference member Bethel, then lost to College of Saint Mary 25-22, 25-22, 25-22, 25-22.
Biegert was pleased with the efforts of her young team, which returns just three starters from last season. CSM was ranked 23rd in the NAIA coaches’ postseason poll last year and has another strong team in 2020.
“We didn’t have a lot of mental mistakes and with such a young team I thought that would be a worry, but I don’t really feel like that was the issue,” she said. “We just made more errors (than CSM). They’re a top 25 team, I felt like they raised up to the level of the other team, which was good to
“It’s figuring out what works and what doesn’t work before conference starts. We were able to mix up a lot of things and they just ran with it.”
Biegert was particularly pleased with Monson, setter Cortney Hanna (SO/Lawrence, Kan.) and outside hitters Maddy Beckett (SO/Halstead, Kan.) and Morgan Bryand (SO/Wichita, Kan.), a transfer from Butler Community College.
“Emily stepped up phenomenally, she picked up right where she left off last year,” Biegert said. “She really covered all of the court, kept us in some big plays. Beckett hit some superb balls and found holes, and Cortney was a leader.
“(Bryand) was an offensive weapon, for sure. She’s a hammer arm, she’s done a good job coming in, she’s learning the process and catching on fast.”
Monson was pleased with how the team played together in its first live action.
“I’m really impressed with how everyone meshed,” she said. “Because of COVID we stick with pods and we don’t get to practice a lot with our lineup a lot. We’ve had one practice with that lineup, so I’m really impressed with how we all meshed together and even being a young team everyone knew to step up into their roles.”
KWU led 24-20 in the first set against Bethel, but the Threshers rallied and tied it at 24 before the Coyotes closed it out. They rolled to an early 13-1 lead in the second and never looked back, then built an insurmountable 16-6 lead in the third set.
Bryand had 16 kills and Beckett 11, but KWU hit just .044 percent. Hanna had 32 assists and Monson 44 digs.
CSM battled back from an early 7-1 deficit in the first set and got within 23-22 before the Coyotes scored the final two points for the victory. KWU led the second set 7-3, but CSM went on an 11-4 run that gave the Flames a 16-11 advantage. The Coyotes got within 24-22 late before CSM scored the final point.
KWU led the third set 9-5, but the Flames rallied again, using an 8-2 surge that them a 16-13 lead. The Coyotes got with 24-22 again before falling short. CSM raced to 12-3 lead in the third set, KWU battled back and got within 24-22 for the third consecutive time before, but the Flames closed out the set and match.
Beckett led the Wesleyan attack with 15 kills and Bryand had 13 as the Coyotes hit .191. Hanna had 21 assists and Monson led the defense with 13 digs.
Wesleyan plays twice Sunday, starting with Dakota State at 10 a.m., then KCAC rival Southwestern at 2 p.m. inside Mabee Arena.