USAF ACADEMY, Colo. – The Air Force volleyball team picked up its first Mountain West win of 2013 on Saturday, Sept. 28, as it downed Wyoming in four sets at the Academy’s East Gym. With the 25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23 victory over their visitors from Laramie, the Falcons snapped 18-match winless streak against the Cowgirls, that dated back to 2003.
Junior Ayesha Hein and sophomore Akokwe Clement paced all players with 13 kills apiece, while senior Cami Richan (11) and sophomore Maggie Sherrill (10) also accounted for double-digit kill totals. Hein, who hit .409 in the match (13k-4e-22a), also tied for the team lead in blocks, as she and sophomore Raquel Rosas tallied four blocks each (one solo, three assisted for Hein; four assisted for Rosas). Junior Hillary Keltner surpassed the 50-assist mark for the second time this season (51) and accounted for another double-double with 10 digs, while sophomore Rebecca Bates paced the team in both digs (18) and service aces (season-best tying three).
“We had good (hitting) balance,” head coach Matt McShane said. “We passed better, we served better. We’ve talked about it before ... most of this is learning how to win. If we play our normal match, we can play with anybody (in the conference).”
Air Force opened the match with a fast 7-1 lead and forced the Cowgirls into an early timeout. Rosas scored the Falcons’ first point of the run, while Richan and Hein teamed up for the first of seven assisted blocks by the team and two aces by Bates book-ended a pair of kills by Clement. A kill from Hein extended the Falcons’ advantage to 9-2, while additional kills by the Falcons’ co-captain kept them ahead 10-4 and 11-6. The Cowgirls cut Air Force’s lead to two (13-11), before Sherrill stopped their run with a kill. Hein and Keltner put down a pair of scores to return the Falcons’ lead to five (19-14), but Wyoming once again pulled within two (22-20), despite a pair of back-to-back scores from Sherrill. Richan, Sherrill and Clement scored three of the final five points as Air Force defeated Wyoming 25-22 – its first “set” win over the Cowgirls since 2008.
The second set started just like the first, with Rosas putting the Falcons on the board with a kill. Single strikes from Hein, Clement, Keltner, Sherrill and Richan helped Air Force go up five (11-6) and force Wyoming into another early timeout. Behind kills from Richan (two), Keltner and Rosas, the Falcons reached the 20-point plateau (20-13), while additional scores from Rosas (two) and Sherrill, as well as another service ace from Bates put the Falcons at set-point (24-19). Wyoming scored four unanswered points to pull within one (24-23), but Richan put down the final kill for Air Force’s 25-23 victory.
Air Force scored six of the first eight points of the third set, behind three kills from Hein, two from Richan and one from Clement, but Wyoming answered with an 11-1 run to take a 13-7 advantage over the Falcons. Clement, Hein and Richan teamed up for three straight kills to pull Air Force within three (15-12), while a kill from Sherrill brought the score to within two (18-16). Sherrill added another pair of kills and Rosas and Richan teamed up for a block to bring Air Force within one (21-20). A pair of attacking errors by the Cowgirls helped even the score at 23, but Wyoming claimed the final two points for the 25-23 win.
Wyoming took an early 3-1 advantage to start the fourth set, but blocks by Keltner/Rosas, Richan/Rosas and Sherrill/Rosas quickly returned the advantage to Air Force, while kills from Richan and Clement (two) quickly brought the Falcons to the 10-point plateau. Despite kills from Hein, Keltner, Sherrill and Rosas that put Air Force up 15-10, the Cowgirls evened the set at 16. Clement broke the tie on the ensuing play, but the teams traded points and saw the score tie at the 20-, 21- and 22-point marks. Air Force reached match-point at 24-22, while a final kill from Richan secured the 25-23 win for the Falcons – the program’s first victory over Wyoming since Nov. 15, 2003.
“Hillary set a really good match tonight,” McShane continued. “She moved it around and got us a lot of one-on-one and that really helped keep our hitting percentage high. Ayesha hit .409, Maggie hit .160 and (that was after) Wyoming started paying more attention to her. I know Akokwe was struggling in the first two games, but then, in the last two games, she hit amazing. Like I said, Hillary did a great job of moving us around and we won.”
Air Force heads back out on the road next week, as it travels to Boise State on Thursday, Oct. 3, and conference newcomer Utah State on Saturday, Oct. 5.
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