Young ’Hawks ‘compete,’ but lose

‘We can compete with anyone; we just can’t beat them’

The Fort Lewis College women’s volleyball team held its own in each set against New Mexico Highlands on Friday night, but the Cowgirls still managed to brand the Skyhawks with another three-set loss.

Fort Lewis fell to Highlands 25-3, 25-22 and 25-22, hanging with the Cowgirls until the end of each set.

That, FLC head coach Shelly Aaland said, has been the story of the season.

“We can compete with anyone; we just can’t beat them,” she said.

In the first set, the Skyhawks stuck with Highlands point for point until midway through the set. A powerful spike by Ashley Wells seemed to shift momentum in favor of Fort Lewis as the Skyhawks went up 17-14, but the Cowgirls rallied to retake the lead and secure the set.

The Skyhawks (5-18, 2-13 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) came out stale for the second, falling to a 4-0 deficit before recapturing some energy and tying the set at 12. The two squads again battled point for point for a handful of serves until Highlands took a three-point, 21-18 lead that it held for the remainder of the set.

The third game was a near repeat of the first two, the Skyhawks and Cowgirls trading points late into the set. N.M. Highlands (11-15, 5-10 RMAC) slipped ahead 20-19 and held its third end-of-game lead to finish off the match.

Aaland said her squad continued to struggle with its youth Friday as it put as many as four freshmen on the court at any one time. With that many new players, getting into a rhythm, playing as a unit and pulling out tight sets is hard, she said.

“That’s just what we are this year,” Aaland said. “We’re young.”

But Aaland said the squad’s youth does have its bright points.

Wells, a freshman, led the Skyhawks in kills with 13, and Aaland said she has really stepped up during the second half of the season.

“It’s really exciting for a freshman to do that,” Wells said.

Jessica Wilson, a Durango High School graduate, and Taylor Frederking followed with 9 kills apiece.

Freshman setter Ciara Krening had 36 assists.

Wells said the loss was a hard but fun one and said she thought the young squad has done well in the face of adversity.

In particular, she praised its efforts to overcome the loss of defensive standout Jenna Kinzer, who is out indefinitely with an injury.

Defense and blocking definitely have improved, Wells said. Hannah Starbuck, a sophomore who’s shifted to libero to try to fill Kinzer’s shoes, led the Skyhawks in digs with 11, followed by Wilson with seven and Wells with six.

“I think we’ve really come far on making that adjustment, and I think it really showed (Friday night),” Wells said.

Fort Lewis will play another conference match against Western New Mexico at 7 p.m. today at Whalen Gymnasium.

Aaland said it’s hard to predict how the squad will perform because the girls always defy her expectations. Mostly, she said, she’s proud they haven’t given up on the season despite their struggles and that they try to win every match.

“That’s the pro and con of a younger team is I don’t really know what to expect,” Aaland said.