Senior defensive specialist Megan Graefe did everything she could to keep the momentum going for the Fort Lewis College volleyball team Saturday night at Whalen Gymnasium against Colorado Mesa. Whether it was making two remarkable digs to keep a rally going in the third set, or making a key pass to senior setter Kendra Swackenberg in the final set, Graefe did it all. She registered 25 digs in a season-defining win for Fort Lewis, as they won in five sets, 16-25, 25-16, 17-25, 26-24 and 15-13.
“The win was huge for us, and a big thing that coach (Tricia) Melfy has been trying to get us do is get us to believe that we’re good enough to win,” Graefe said. “We’ve been beating the teams that we knew we should have beat, but with this upset, it’s just really big for us to see that we can compete with these upper level teams in the conference.”
Skyhawks head coach Tricia Melfy thought that Graefe was key for the Skyhawks Saturday night, as she stayed composed down the stretch when they needed her the most.
“Everyone gives the accolades to the hitters, but they don’t do anything without people like Megan,” Melfy said. “When I got here I was like ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe I get to work with a player like Megan Graefe,’ and she just proves it night after night. She’s got a calm determination about her, and that has pushed us a long way. Really, our success has come off of her forearms all year long.”
The Skyhawks (8-11, 8-7 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) extended their home winning streak to six consecutive matches.
While they got the win, it was never going to be easy. In the first set, the Mavericks (17-6, 12-3 RMAC) recorded 17 kills and were led by senior outside hitter Mackenzie Edwards, who registered seven of them. As a team, the Mavericks hit .333 percent and won 25-16. However, the Skyhawks came out with aggression in the second set. The Mavericks got out to a 4-1 lead early, but the Skyhawks stayed in the match and took a 12-11 lead and later went on an 8-1 run to make it 21-12. Fort Lewis closed out the set and won 25-16.
The third set appeared to be going the Skyhawks’ way, as Graefe had two miraculous digs in the first three points and senior outside hitter Haley Christiansen had arguably the best point of the match, when an attempted dig went over the net and dropped for a point to make it 6-4. However, the Mavericks went on a 10-0 run after Christiansen’s point, to take a 16-10 lead. Fort Lewis brought it back within two points at 17-15, but then the Mavericks went on an 8-2 run to take the set 25-17 and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The fourth set looked like it could have been wrapped up by Mesa, but the Skyhawks’ front line had other plans. The match was tied at 21 and there for the taking, but Fort Lewis held tough and eventually had the match tied at 24. A pair of attack errors on the Mavericks meant that the Skyhawks won the game 26-24 and had forced the match to a fifth set.
In the fifth set, the teams went back and forth before Mesa grabbed an 11-9 lead, which prompted Melfy to call a timeout.
“We just had to be a little more disciplined in some of our assignments, and when a game gets a little bit frantic, we get a little frantic at times,” Melfy said. “But we calmed down and I told them what we needed to run in order to be successful. It was going to be a relentless pursuit to win a point, but how we were going to structure that point was important. But more than that, where they were on defense wasn’t right and they needed to make the adjustments.”
Graefe remembered the conversation during the timeout slightly different.
“It was intense, really intense, and I had so much adrenaline,” Graefe said. “In the past, if we would’ve seen that score, we would’ve been defeated; but there was just really good energy and we knew we weren’t done just yet.”
Out of the timeout, Fort Lewis won the next three points to make it 12-11, which included a double-block from freshman outside hitter Tye Wedhorn and senior middle blocker Maddie LeBlanc, and forced Mesa to call a timeout of its own. After Mesa tied the match at 12, Christiansen had a kill and another double-block from Wedhorn and LeBlanc made it 14-12. The Mavericks would again make it a one-point game at 14-13, but the attempt to tie the match at 14 went wide and the Skyhawks won 15-13.
Mesa head coach Dave Fleming thought the biggest stat of the night was the errors, in which the Mavericks committed 43 compared to just 22 for Fort Lewis.
“Obviously, we aren’t in this business to like losing,” Fleming said. “But all the credit goes to Fort Lewis because they played smarter than we did, and we had 50 errors in that game and if you take 10 of them away, it’s a different outcome. I think that was the big factor; we had errors and we had them at the wrong time. Down the stretch, I thought that we still controlled the outcome, but we had to control it, and we didn’t. We played safe and we weren’t as athletic as we normally are.”
Wedhorn finished with 15 kills and the Skyhawks set another season-high mark in blocks with 13, after they tied the record the night before with 10. Edwards led Mesa with 17 kills while junior setter Samantha Ritter had 31 assists.
When asked if she considered it the biggest win of the season, Melfy did not hesitate with her answer.
“Absolutely,” Melfy said. “At the end of the day, we just played a really good team and to find a way to beat a team with that much offensive power, I mean, they’re just a great team, well-coached and fun to play against. Clearly the best win we’ve had all year. A win like that is how we feel more confident in getting to, and hopefully playing in the RMAC Tournament.”
The Skyhawks will take on Colorado State Pueblo at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26 in Pueblo.