The Lamar Community College volleyball team sits tied for second place after a 2-1 opening weekend in Region IX-South play.
The Lopes (16-8, 2-1) sandwiched wins against No. 20 Northeastern Junior College and McCook Community College around a four-set loss to Western Nebraska during a weekend homestand.
Thursday's four-set win (21-25, 25-17, 27-25, 25-20) over the Plainswomen was Lamar's first win over a nationally ranked opponent on record. Northeastern finished its weekend with wins at Trinidad and Otero, Western Nebraska lost at Otero and won at Trinidad, and McCook lost at both Trinidad and Otero.
Western Nebraska is alone in first place with a 3-1 record in the South. Lamar, Northeastern and Otero are each 2-1, while Trinidad is 1-2 and McCook is 0-4.
"This region is unbelievable, and it will be an absolute dogfight for seeding until the very last day of the season," LCC head coach Dante Geoffrey said. "This weekend proved that anyone can beat anyone on any given day."
Lamar beat NJC in the region-opener for the third-straight season and is 2-1 in conference for the second time in three years.
Sophomore setter Emily Longnecker led the Lopes attack with 43 assists and four kills. She also scored two aces while recording eight digs.
Longnecker set up 17 kills for both sophomore Anamarija Mikovic (17 kills, 2 aces, 14 digs) and freshman Charlene Hosly (17 kills, 3 aces, 11 digs). Sophomore middle Jillean Cooper-Watson added six kills and freshman Allie White had three.
"The connection between Emily and our outsides was strong, as it always is, but our middle connection was on and that really allowed us to open up our offense," Geoffrey said. "Before the game the middles and I talked about what we would need from them in order to maximize our attack, and they stepped up. And it wasn't just about getting kills, but about being relentless and having a constant presence."
Saturday's win put some crucial separation between Lamar and McCook, who suffered a winless road trip through Southern Colorado. As with Thursday's win, the Lopes started slow, dropping the first set before tying things up in the second and ultimately needing a fifth set to come back and beat McCook 21-25, 25-23, 18-25, 25-21, 15-12.
Mikovic led the Lopes with 20 kills and an ace and scored a total of 26 points with three solo blocks and four block assists. She also had seven digs.
Longnecker assisted on 47 kills and had nine digs as well as two block assists. Hosly added 13 kills, 16 digs, two solo blocks and a block assist.
Cooper-Watson finished her impressive weekend with eight kills and a .462 hitting percentage against McCook. White scored four kills on just 10 swings and had four block assists.
Freshman opposite Cassidy Dotter came off the bench to provide the LCC offense with a late-game spark with three kills.
Freshman Kami Steinbacher also helped the Lopes' comeback bid with her play in the back row and behind the service line. Steinbacher scored two of Lamar's four aces and picked up a couple digs in the closing sets of the victory.
Against Western Nebraska on Friday the Lopes never mustered the same energy and focus that helped them play to their potential Thursday and Saturday. Lamar lost 21-25, 28-26, 11-25, 18-25.
Mikovic earned 18 kills, followed by eight from Hosly and three from Cooper-Watson. Longnecker had 31 assists as Lamar's attack was largely limited due to its inconsistent passing, preventing the Lopes from ever getting into a rhythm. Despite that, LCC still took a set off the Cougars for the first time since at least 2011.
Polanco led the Lopes with 15 digs, followed by 13 apiece from Mikovic and Hosly, and 11 from Greeson.
"We know we could have played better, and we're glad we'll get another shot at playing our brand of volleyball at their place in a couple weeks," Geoffrey said.
Thursday's win against Northeastern marked the 50th in Geoffrey's head-coaching career.
"It's an arbitrary achievement, but it meant a lot that it came in this environment, against a team as great as NJC, in a region-opener," Geoffrey said. "I thanked the girls in the locker room afterwards for rising to the occasion, and making this win a little extra special. I know as the stakes continue to rise this season, so will their focus and level of play."
The Lopes travel to La Junta to take on Otero JC at 7 p.m. on Thursday night, and then to Trinidad for a 7 p.m. match against the Trojans on Saturday.