The 5th-ranked Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team finished off the WyoBraska Invite by splitting a pair of competitive contests on Saturday.

                The Cougars started the day with a 25-20, 25-18, 25-20 sweep of Iowa Western Community College and then fell in five action-packed sets 25-14, 25-27, 20-25, 25-18, 15-13   to No. 16 Central Wyoming College to wrap up the invite.

                “I thought we played well in both matches,” WNCC head coach Binny Canales said. “Even in the loss we saw some great things and amazing plays. We just started off a little slow and it was just really good volleyball and it was going back and forth. It was a fun match and I thought we grew from it. We will continue to get better and just keep growing.”

                The loss to Central Wyoming was a battle between two NJCAA ranked teams and it could be these two teams will be the two teams representing Region IX at the national tournament because it was a battle back and forth between the two talented teams.

                “It could be (these two teams at nationals) but we still have Northeastern and they are a good team,” Canales said. “Right now we are worried about fixing a few things on our end and things that we have to adjust. We are going to do that and see what happens later on.”

                WNCC played well in both matches on Saturday. Against Iowa Western, the first set was back and forth. With IWCC leading 18-17, Jenna Curtis hammered down a kill and then served three points, all aces, for a 21-18 lead. A couple sideouts later, Ale Meoni had a kill and then served the final two points for the 25-20 win.

                The second set saw Iowa Western lead 3-2 but with the score tied at 5-5, WNCC took the lead on a Erica Fava kill and service point and never trailed again. Iowa Western cut the lead to a single point 12-11 and later two points 15-13, but that was when Shanelle Martinez had a kill and then Alex Hernandez had four points for the 20-13 lead. WNCC led 24-16 after two Curtis points and won the set 25-18 on a Emmalei Mapu kill.

                The third set saw WNCC lead from start to finish except for a couple tied at 1-1 and 5-5. Iowa Western did trail a single digit, the last time at 14-13. That was when Anakaren Chavez served three points for a, 18-13 lead. Fava then served three points to make the score 23-16 and won the match 25-20 on a Curtis kill.

                Curtis had a double-double in the win with 11 kills, 10 digs, seven points, three aces, and two solo blocks. Meoni finished with eight kills, four points, three digs, and an ace serve. Fava tallied 10 kills with eight digs, and eight points, while Mapu had six kills, four digs, and a solo block.

                Also for WNCC, Martinez had a double-double with 10 digs and 36 set assists; Hernandez had four kills, five points, two digs, and an ace serve; Lexi Keoho had three digs; and Chavez had 11 digs, two set assists, five points and an ace serve.

                The second match was the showstopper of the matches held at Cougar Palace for the three days as the match between WNCC and Central Wyoming was the only match to go more than three sets. Both teams swept Iowa Western on the day and the final match of the tournament was a dandy.

                WNCC started slow in the Central Wyoming match, dropping the first set 25-14. The second set started as Curtis had four points for a 5-0 lead. Central Wyoming came back and went up 13-10 and later led 17-14. WNCC came back to take a 19-17 lead on four Meoni kills.

                It didn’t last long as Central Wyoming led 23-21 and had set point at 24-23. WNCC got a kill from Curtis and then Curtis had another kill to give WNCC set point. The Rustlers tied it at 25, but Meoni got a kill and then Curtis got an ace serve to win the second set 27-25.

                The third set saw Central Wyoming lead 10-7 before Mapu hammered down a kill. Martinez then stepped to the service line and served eight straight for a 16-10 lead that included three kills from Curtis, including one kill that was a oops-me kill.

                WNCC led 19-11 before Central Wyoming made a rally to trail 24-20. WNCC won the third set 25-20 on a Meoni kill.

                The fourth set saw the teams knotted at 12-12 after two Chavez points. Central Wyoming came back to go up 16-13 after two points from Alicja Jaryszek points and led 20-17. WNCC got one point but the Rustlers took the fourth set 25-18 on four straight points from Hanuka Sugimoto.

                The fifth set saw the Rustlers jump out to a 9-5 lead after two points from Megan Hardman. Central Wyoming went up 11-6 before a Mapu run gave new life to the Cougars as Curtis served four points to tie the fifth set at 11.

                Central Wyoming went up 13-11 before WNCC tied the match at 13-13 on a Mapu kill and Chavez point. The Rustlers got the final two points for the 15-13 win.

                Curtis and Martinez each had triple-doubles in the loss. Martinez had 16 digs, 45 set assists, and 11 points, while Curtis had 13 kills, 14, digs, 13 points and three aces. Fava had a double-double in the contest with 11 kills, 14 digs, two set assists, and three points.

                Meoni finished with 11 kills with four digs and five points, while Mapu had 10 kills.

                Also for WNCC, Hernandez had four kills, three digs, and three points; while Chavez had 11 digs, two set assists, and three points. Keoho had 10 digs, while Megan Bewley had a dig.

                Other scores in the second day of the WyoBraska Invite at Cougar Palace saw Central Wyoming top Iowa Western 25-23, 26-24, 25-18; Dodge City defeat Western Wyoming Community College 25-16, 25-17, 26-24; and Dodge City defeat Casper College 25-19, 25-20, 25-20.

                Action at Torrington, Wyoming, saw plenty of close matches. Casper defeated Colorado Northwestern 25-13, 25-16, 20-25, 25-18; Lake Region State College defeating Eastern Wyoming College 19-25, 25-13, 25-22, 25-20; Northwest College topping Northeastern Junior College 25-18, 25-20, 25-21; Lake Region State topping Western Wyoming 25-18, 25-18, 24-18; and NJC taking out Colorado Northwestern 25-16, 25-17, 25-9.

                WNCC, 17-3, will look for another 20-win season next week when they host three matches. WNCC will entertain Casper College on Tuesday at 6 p.m. followed by South Sub-region contests with McCook Community College on Thursday and then Lamar Community College on Friday with both matches beginning at 6 p.m.

                Canales said his team will have to play with the same intensity they did this weekend to get three wins next week.

                “We have to have the same intensity that we had (Saturday),” he said. “We just have to serve hard and play good and not make the little mental mistakes that we make at critical times. We are growing and it is fun to see.”

                What Canales liked about the energy level was how the bench and the crowd were into the matches.

                “We play well when our bench is in it and the crowd is in it,” he said. “We had a great crowd. It was a fun match.”