ANCHORAGE – Junior outside hitter Leah Swiss blasted nine of her 25 kills in the final two sets Saturday to lead the Alaska Anchorage volleyball team to its sixth straight victory with a 19-25, 25-14, 12-25, 25-23, 15-9 comeback against No. 10 Northwest Nazarene at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The Seawolves (16-7, 11-3 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) also got 16 kills, 18 digs and a pair of aces from junior outside hitter Chrisalyn Johnson as they earned a split of the season series and an impressive win in the NCAA Div. II West Region playoff chase.
The Nighthawks (20-2, 12-2 GNAC) were led by 17 kills and 24 digs from senior outside hitter Kendra Bodine and 15 kills on .412 kills from senior middle blocker Madi Farrell, but the visitors from Nampa, Idaho, could not capitalize on leads in the final two sets.
“In set 2, that was really some of the best Seawolf volleyball that we’ve seen this year, and we kind of got back to that at the end of games 4 and 5,” said UAA head coach Chris Green, whose squad improved to 3-4 against nationally ranked opponents this year. “That was a huge win against a very, very good team – one that came in with only one loss – so we’re happy to avenge a loss (3-1 at NNU on Sept. 28 in Nampa) that we had earlier in the year.”
After dropping the first frame in the rematch of last season’s NCAA Div. II West Regional semifinal – won in five sets by UAA – the defending GNAC-champion Seawolves reversed their fortunes quickly, handing the Nighthawks their worst set loss of the season at 25-14 in the second.
NNU returned the favor in the third, however, delivering UAA’s second-worst set loss of the year at 25-12.
Leading 17-12 in the fourth, NNU’s momentum would end after a well-timed timeout UAA head coach Chris Green. Following the stoppage, the Seawolves scored six straight points and took the lead on back-to-back aces by sophomore middle blocker Vanessa Hayes.
NNU retook the lead at 22-21 on Bodine’s final kill of the set before Swiss accounted for two kills in a 3-0 Seawolf run. Cami Heninger’s kill thwarted the first set point for UAA, but Swiss converted a feed from setter Casey Davenport to clinch the frame and draw a roar from the crowd of 1,268.
The teams traded points to begin the fifth before the Seawolves finally claimed control with a 6-0 run that made it 10-5, getting three kills from Swiss and a pair of aces from senior libero Keala Kaio-Perez in the surge. NNU could get no closer than five points the rest of the way as Johnson did the honors with a kill on match point.
“That was a really fun, competitive match the whole way,” said Swiss, who topped Johnson’s 24 kills in Thursday’s 3-2 win over No. 25 Central Washington for UAA’s most this season. “We have a great rivalry against NNU so it certainly wasn’t hard to get motivated for this one.”
The GNAC Preseason Player of the Year, Swiss hit .301 on the night and added four total blocks and 11 digs. Johnson, meanwhile, recorded her seventh double-double in the last eight matches and two of UAA’s 10 aces.
Kaio-Perez paced the match with 26 digs and equaled her career high with five service aces. Hayes finished with six kills and a match-high six block assists, while Davenport delivered 47 assists, 15 digs and four kills.
With Saturday’s result, the Nighthawks fall out of first place in the GNAC standings for the first time this year – now one match behind Western Washington (19-3, 13-1) – while the Seawolves stay two matches back of WWU and remain even with Central Washington (16-6, 11-3) for third place.
The Seawolves hit the road for the final time in the regular season next week when they face No. 8 WWU on Thur., Nov. 2 in Bellingham, Wash., and Simon Fraser on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Burnaby, British Columbia. Both matches begin at 6 p.m. ADT and can be seen live on GNAC.tv.
NOTES: The Seawolves won by nearly an identical score as in the teams’ last meeting at the Alaska Airlines Center, when UAA earned a 15-10 decision in the fifth set of the 2016 NCAA Tournament … Swiss came two kills shy of equaling her career high and established a new personal high for attacks with 73 … Swiss earned her 12th double-double of the season and 33rd of her career … Hayes led the Seawolves in blocking for the second straight match … Kaio-Perez tied her career high in aces for the fourth time, leapfrogging Swiss for the GNAC lead in aces average at 0.51 per set … senior right-side hitter Anais Vargas notched all of her career-high four block assists in the final two sets.