Loras College is bringing the energy this season, and its positive vibes overwhelmed rival University of Dubuque on Wednesday night.
Dubuque Wahlert grad Liz Fleckenstein and former Western Dubuque standout Lyndsi Wilgenbush floored 12 kills apiece as the Duhawks swept the Spartans, 25-22, 25-20, 25-17 at the Loras Athletic & Wellness Center to open American Rivers Conference play.
“We couldn’t have done it without everyone coming together,” said Fleckenstein, a 5-foot-8 senior utility player. “We had a lot of fun because when we play together, we play focused and strong.”
Sara Hoskins delivered 33 assists, while Wahlert grad Krystal Tranel had 22 digs and Moira Mixan added 21 more as the Duhawks (7-1, 1-0) won their fourth straight match.
“I think any time we play our crosstown rival here it’s always nice, because you never know what you’re going to get,” Loras second-year coach Kristy Duncan said. “Both teams play hard and get after it. We came out on the right end of it tonight. We were aggressive, we had focused fun, and that was nice to see. It went the right way.”
The energy of the Duhawks saw major growth over the offseason, and it’s carried over into the fall — with Fleckenstein and Wilgenbusch’s hammering shots a sure-fire way to rile up the bench and the crowd.
“We love joking around with each other and having a great time,” Fleckenstein said. “We each individually care about each other, and when you’re out there like that it’s easy to feel good. With COVID happening last year, it hit everybody differently, but this team really pulled together last year and kept that culture of bringing each other up. Focusing and having fun on and off the court as well, and it’s really helped us come together as a team.”
Fleckenstein is seeing her first major court time as a senior, and she’s making the most of it. She only accounted for four total kills last season, but she’s already piled up 105 over the Duhawks’ hot start.
“Liz is really turning it on, and that’s so nice to see,” Duncan said. “Any time a senior can get the opportunity to get on the court and deliver like that, it’s great. She’s excited to get out there and play some good volleyball. She’s hitting some really nice angles and doing some really good things on the floor with placing the ball. She’s really, really smart with a high volleyball IQ. She can put the ball wherever she wants, and sometimes she tries to do too much, but we’ll take it.”
The teams traded points early in the opening set before the Duhawks grabbed a 6-4 lead on a pair of Wilgenbusch kills. Loras held the lead the rest of the set, but the Spartans made it far from easy.
Fleckenstein and Wilgenbusch floored five kills apiece in the set and helped the Duhawks break open a 17-7 lead, then appeared to be on the way to a laid-back win with a 23-13 advantage. But the Spartans answered with eight straight points to tighten the match at 23-21 with the aid of back-to-back aces from Emma Powell and a pair of kills from Darby Hawtrey.
Ultimately, the Duhawks held strong with a Wilgenbusch kill, and then a Spartans point later, UD’s Julie May sent her serve into the net for the 25-22 triumph for Loras.
The Duhawks led the second set from the opening serve. Mixan hit for two kills and helped Loras push the lead to 17-12, but the Spartans pulled within 19-15 before Olivia Smith let her presence be known at the net.
The 6-foot middle blocker from Sauk Prairie, Wis., scored three straight points on blocks to turn the tide for Loras at 22-15. Wilgenbusch then floored a beautiful shot down the right sideline before Fleckenstein capped the 25-20 win with a pair of kills.
“I think these next two weeks will be pretty telling,” Duncan said. “We’re going to be facing some pretty good competition this weekend. Right now, we’re beating some good teams and I’m excited to see us play against some of the top 25 teams and see how we match up there. Can we keep that poise and composure we’re playing with?”
Katie Wright had 25 digs, Kate Messino added 15 assists and Hawtrey hit nine kills to lead the Spartans (3-7, 0-1), who have lost five straight matches.
“Our weekend road trip, playing some of the top teams in the region, was about learning and growing, and I think we did that,” UD coach April Elsbernd said. “We’re still pretty young. We have a couple veterans, but most of the sophomores or juniors out on the court haven’t played too much. I think the atmosphere and the pressure kind of got to them tonight. Loras was aggressive and took advantage of us being tentative, and that was the difference.”