In the Western Athletic Conference Volleyball home opener Thursday night, the Vaqueros dropped their second conference match 3-1 against the University of Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos.
UTRGV’s overall record went to 7-9 and its conference record slipped to 0-2.
The first set went to the Kangaroos, 25-21, but not before a series of lead changes and 11 tie scores in the first frame. The early victory, in a closely contested frame, proved to be crucial for UMKC as the guests made it two in a row in the next set.
UKMC won Set 2 25-17 to put the home team on the brink of a sweep loss.
The second period saw the visitors go up early with a 9-2 lead. The Vaqueros came within two points when the Kangaroos’ lead was trimmed 11-13, but that represented the closest UTRGV would come in the frame.
The third saw the Vaqueros come back late to take a set win, when the lead was taken 23-22 after an ace by freshman middle blocker Alexandra Ecker. They won the game 25-22 after surging back from an 11-19 hole. The comeback was fueled by a 14-3 run, including the final seven points going to the home squad.
While the sweep was avoided, the final set included an early lead for UMKC. This time, however, the lead was held all the way through and the Kangaroos finished the Vaqueros off with a 25-17 win.
Leading the winning team in kills was Meagan Kerns, sophomore outside hitter, with 13.
Fifth-year Kangaroos Associate Head Coach Trent Rose stressed the importance of improving their record in a conference road match.
“Anytime you can get a WAC road win, that’s a huge deal,” Rose said. “This conference is so tough and we travel all over the country, so it doesn’t matter where you go, you really want that result. That team was never gonna give up. They did push back and we had to respond. It was good to get the first two sets because I knew they weren’t gonna go away.”
The first set helped the Kangaroos gain their stranglehold on the match but it was not without lessons UTRGV could use going forward.
Vaqueros Head Coach Todd Lowery, who led the UT Brownsville Volleyball Team to two national championships as its head coach in 2011 and 2013, highlighted the first set that was narrowly lost and the come-from-behind winning set as positives that can be extracted from the loss.
“The big thing is we’re only a couple of balls away, especially set 1,” Lowery said. “This team is starting to believe a little bit, that’s the biggest thing. We gotta take the conference and build consistency off of that.”
Lowery’s sights are focused on the quick turnaround to noon Saturday when the Chicago State University Wolverines, whose conference record is 0-3, visit the Fieldhouse in a game the Vaqueros need to win to avoid a 0-3 conference start.
“We feel like Chicago State is a team we should have some success against and we just got to build on what we did tonight,” he said. “If we can do some good things on our block and continue to serve well, we’ll have our chances.”
Lowery said pressure will be on but this urgency is just a part of the equation in conference season.
“The game Saturday is one that I feel like we need to win,” said the coach, who is new to the WAC but not conference play. “A little bit of pressure. That’s how it works in conference. The pressure is on you when you’re in the games you’re supposed to win. We were the underdogs tonight and UMKC handled the pressure it takes to win.”
Even while suffering a loss, sophomore right side hitter Bojana Mitrovic led all players in kills with 18 on the match. Alisha Watson, junior right side hitter and team captain, added 10 kills of her own. These two players, however, accounted for the only two Vaqueros with more than seven kills.