The slow starting Seward County Lady Saints dug themselves in a pair of holes Saturday afternoon in Roswell, New Mexico at the 2016 New Mexico Military Institute Classic and were able to come from behind in their first match with Eastern Arizona in a 3-1 win, but were unable to complete their second attempt, dropping a deciding fifth set to #19 South Mountain to end their opening weekend stay in the desert 3-1.
In their opening match of the day Saturday the Lady Saints took on the Gila Monsters of Eastern Arizona. Seward got off to a dreadfully slow start, falling behind Eastern 9-4 to begin the match and watched as that deficit grew to 17-9 later on in the set. A 7-2 run for the Lady Saints clawed them all the way back to within three at 19-16, but the Gila Monsters finished the period strong, shutting down the Seward attack to the tune of a 25-20 win to take a 1-0 lead.
The second set couldn't have went much differently as the Lady Saints jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead and held that four point advantage to the midpoint of the set at 12-8. The Lady Saints started opening up their lead when a well-executed slide play from Giovanna Kuntze to Mariana Nascimento put Seward on top of Eastern 20-13. They didn't stop there, stepping on the gas to the finish line to even the match at one with a 25-15 victory.
In the all-important third set, the two teams played to a 9-9 tie early on before a 3-0 run by Eastern Arizona gave the Gila Monsters a 12-9 lead at the midway point. The Lady Saints slowly crept back into the game before tying the score up at 23 as the period hit its twilight. After trading points to 24-24, Seward came up big by scoring the final two to wrap up a 26-24 win to grab a 2-1 lead in the match.
Seward carried their momentum from the third straight into the fourth, getting a big block on the outside from Briana Domino and Belissa Guidotti to give themselves a 12-7 lead midway through the set. The Lady Saints continued to keep a sizeable cushion to the late portion of the set, but lapsed late as the Gila Monsters got within shouting distance at 22-19. But the Lady Saints weren't to be undone on this day, scoring three of the final four points of the set to close out Eastern with a 25-20 win to take the match 3-1.
Nascimento led the Lady Saints offensive attack in the win, finishing off 12 kills without a single error, hitting .545 in the match. Maritza Mesa chalked up her first double-double of the season with a matching 13 kills and 13 digs, both match high's. Kuntze dished out 23 assists for the Lady Saints while Guidotti led Seward with six blocks in the win.
The final match of the weekend for the Lady Saints was against the #19 ranked team in NJCAA Division II, the South Mountain Cougars. Seward's history of slow first set starts again reared its ugly head in this one as the Lady Saints fell behind big early on at 13-6. Behind a big serve of Domino later on, the Lady Saints got back into the set as the freshman reeled off three aces to knot the score at 18. However, as soon as Domino's serve was broken, the Cougars took back control, scoring seven of the final eight points of the set to take the first 25-19 and grab a 1-0 lead in the match.
As bad as the first set started for the Lady Saints, the second set started even worse as Seward found themselves in a 10-3 hole right off the bat to begin the period. It continued to look like they were in trouble as South Mountain carried at 16-11 lead to the midway point of the set when a quick 5-0 spurt for the Lady Saints knotted the set up at 16. With all of the momentum on their side, the Lady Saints continued to push, eventually taking a three point lead at 22-19 on a kill my Nascimento in the middle. The two teams split the final six points of the set, but that was all the Lady Saints needed as they somehow came away with a 25-22 win after outscoring the Cougars 14-6 to close the set.
With the big finish to the second set giving them momentum into the third, the Lady Saints burst out to a 6-0 lead behind a pair of kills from Mesa and two more from Domino. Things continued to look good for Seward as they kept a five point lead to the midway point of the set, but that is when things turned for the worst for the gals in green. Leading 13-8, Seward was outscored 11-4 over the next 14 points to see a five point lead turn into a two point deficit at 19-17. Stuck in a snowball rolling downhill, the Lady Saints never recovered as South Mountain finished them off with a 25-21 win to take a 2-1 lead in the match. Seward committed a season high 10 hitting errors in the set, hitting just .057 as a team in the period.
As the roller coaster of the match continued, Seward shook off the forgettable finish to the third to get out to another fast start in the must win fourth. A block from Guidotti and Paulina Zach gave them a 5-1 lead early on and they stretched their lead to 10-3 on a right side blast from Mesa. Seward padded their cushion to eight at 17-9 and this time they didn't relinquish it. The Lady Saints took a nine point lead on an ace from Jazlyn Smith before watching a South Mountain attack sail wide for the final straw to break the Cougars back in a 25-16 Seward win to force a deciding fifth set. After a dismal third set at the net, the Lady Saints recovered to have one of their best offensive period's in the fourth, going errorless on 28 swings to hit .383 and extend the match.
Just when it looked like the momentum was back on the Lady Saints sideline, they again stumbled to start the fifth, finding themselves in a 6-1 hole in the race to 15. At the changeover, it remained a five point South Mountain advantage at 8-3 and the Lady Saints faced a mountain of a task to climb as they were behind 13-6 with the Cougars needing just two points left to finish them off. The teams split the next two points, giving South Mountain seven cracks at match point with the score 14-7. Seward came alive, fighting off the Cougars first four attempts to close them out, but on the fifth, South Mountain succeeded, acing the Lady Saints for the fifth time in the match to win 15-11 and take the match 3-2.
Seward hit by far their season low in their first loss of the season, swinging at a clip of just .083, 152 points lower than their second worst hitting percentage of the young season at .235. Mesa and Nascimento again carried the offense, Mesa leading the way with a career high 19 kills while Nascimento had 12 and again was efficient with a .364 hitting percentage. Kuntze dished out a career best 36 assists while parlaying it into a double-double with 13 digs as well. Domino led the Lady Saints back row with 16 digs while Mesa and Guidotti each had four blocks to lead Seward.
The Lady Saints finish opening weekend 3-1 after going 1-3 in the same tournament a season ago to begin the year. Up next for Seward is a return to the Sunflower State where they will get Jayhawk West Conference play underway with a Wednesday night date in the Sports Arena with the rival Hutchinson Blue Dragons. The Lady Saints will open their 2016 home schedule Friday night with a 6:30 matchup with the Butler Grizzlies.