Concordia eliminates XULA in 4 sets in NAIA opening round

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NEW ORLEANS — Concordia (Neb.), led by sophomore Camryn Opfer’s 18 kills and 13 digs, started strongly and held on to defeat Xavier University of Louisiana 25-13, 25-14, 23-25, 25-20 Saturday in the 2020 NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship Opening Round at the Convocation Center.

The Bulldogs (16-4) advanced with 23 other first-round winners to pool play at Sioux City, Iowa, beginning April 27. XULA, winner of Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships for the 10th consecutive year, finished 18-5.

Opfer had as many kills as XULA, 13, in the first two sets. Opfer also hit .571 in 21 attacks during the first two sets. But XULA, led by freshman Kennedy Wade’s 10 kills and and .381 hitting percentage in the final two sets, extended the match and nearly pushed the NAIA’s 10th-ranked team to a fifth set.

“They’re battlers,” Concordia head coach Ben Boldt said of XULA. “They finally settled into the match. They had some fearless swings and were hard to defend. They put it all on the floor. It made for a competitive match.”

Concordia outhit XULA .313 to .000 during the first two sets with a 30-13 advantage in kills. But in the final two sets XULA outhit Concordia .157 to .156, and the Bulldogs’ advantage in kills was 27-26.

“It took us a while to figure it out,” XULA head coach Pat Kendrick said. “When we play clean like we did the last two sets, we know we can compete with anybody.”

Wade and Kayla Black finished with 12 kills apiece to lead XULA, and Bria Mayes had nine. XULA produced three double-doubles; Wade also had 12 digs, Semira Blair had 18 assists and 13 digs, and Eva Le Guillou had 16 assists and 12 digs.

Also with 13 digs for XULA was Jennifer Torres. Vivica Price-Spraggins had five blocks, and Mayes, Maya Smith and Kendall Mack had three apiece.

Gabi Nordaker and Kara Stark had 10 kills apiece for Concordia. Nodaker hit .471 and had five blocks. Marissa Hoerman had a match-high 23 digs, and Hoerman and Tristin Mason served two aces apiece.

XULA won the third set after trailing 11-6 and led 7-5 in the fourth with the help of two Black kills and aces by Wade and Le Guillou. But Concordia scored the next five points — Nordaker with two kills and Opfer with an ace — and never trailed again.

For the match Concordia outhit XULA .223 to .089 and had advantages of 57-39 in kills, 6-4 in aces and 85-72 in digs. XULA outblocked the Bulldogs 8-6. Concordia committed 35 total errors, and XULA made 41.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned volleyball into a two-semester sport this season. The NAIA’s opening round of nationals was played about five months later than usual.

NOTES: This was XULA’s 10th consecutive appearance at NAIA nationals and 10th overall . . . Its only victory at nationals was in the 2019 opening round against William Carey . . . XULA was an opening-round host for the fourth time in five seasons . . . Honored before the match as their teams’ NAIA Champions of Character recipients were Price-Spraggins and Stark.

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