SEMO goes down fighting in NCAA loss

Southeast Missouri State junior hitter Laney Malloy

A tremendous season by the Southeast Missouri State volleyball squad is now in the books, and though it ended with a 3-0 defeat at Kentucky in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Redhawks went down competitively.

Southeast (23-11) fell 20-25, 15-25, 19-25 to the three-time Southeastern Conference champion.

"I'm so proud of this team," Southeast coach Julie Yankus said in a release. "We have made such a long journey - an amazing journey this year. I think we played with such heart and fight and I think we're a really fun team to watch. I don't think we came out nervous or scared today. We came out to fight and compete, and we did just that."

The Wildcats (24-6) opened the match as they often have this season, with a kill by SEC Player of the Year Leah Edmond.

Kentucky scored the first two points before Southeast tied the match at two following a kill by junior hitter Laney Malloy.

The Wildcats stretched their advantage to 9-4 and later 17-10, but the Redhawks battled back with a 4-0 run to pull within 17-14.

During the stretch, senior blocker Krista Berns had a pair of blocks.

Kentucky settled down and regained the lead, but Malloy had a block to cut the Redhawk deficit to 21-18 and junior blocker Maggie Adams did the same for a 22-19 score. However, a pair of errors by Southeast allowed the Wildcats to close the set.

"I'm really happy with the way we played," Yankus said. "I think we took some big swings. We were aggressive. We went after it."

Sophomore setter Claire Ochs notched a kill to open the next set, as Southeast played the Wildcats tight.

Senior hitter Mikayla Kuhlmann had a kill for a 10-9 score before a 7-2 Wildcat tear gave the hosts breathing room.

The Redhawks got kills from Ochs, Malloy, and Berns, but could not cut into their deficit and fell into a 2-0 hole.

"We just kind of had some lulls with our passing at times that kind of got us out of system," Yankus said. "But besides that, we did what we normally do as a SEMO team, right now which is to be a balanced attack team and get everybody involved, and that usually makes us hard to defend.

"So, I'm really proud of what we did today."

Edmond again got Kentucky on the board first with a kill, but the Redhawks soared back with a 4-0 run that involved three kills from Adams.

Trailing Southeast 4-2, Kentucky answered with a 6-0 run and held an 8-4 lead before Malloy had a kill to stop the momentum.

A kill by Ochs pulled the Redhawks to within 10-9, but the Wildcats came back with a 7-2 run to take a 17-11 lead.

Senior hitter Annie Wehrheim had a kill and teamed with Berns on a block as part of a 3-0 Redhawk run and a 17-14 score. Southeast was still on the heels of Kentucky at 21-19 before the Wildcats closed the match with four consecutive points.

Malloy led Southeast with 12 kills, while Kuhlmann and Ochs had six each.

Adams and Wehrheim totaled five kills each.

Ochs also chipped in 21 assists, while freshman libero Tara Beilsmith had 18 digs and Malloy notched 11. "She's a great player," Yankus said of Beilsmith. "She picks up some amazing balls on defense. She reads the game very well and that's how she's able to do that. But she definitely makes some great reads and some aggressive plays and is not scared to go after any ball.

"She plays with a lot of heart, of course, and fight."

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