The Cougar volleyball team ended its 2009 season Tuesday with a four-set loss to Northwestern in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference semifinals.
However, the defeat was not without some moral victories.
Playing without two seniors (Colleen Hermes, Malinda Prisinger) and a 21-match starter (Lindsay Jacobson), the Cougars still managed to take a set from the Eagles, and they were one of two UMAC teams to do that this year (the Cougars did it twice). The Eagles are now 14-0 in conference play and have not lost a UMAC match going back to 2007.
UMM gave Northwestern a scare early, taking the first set 25-22.
Head coach Chad Braegelmann said enthusiasm and aggressiveness at the net were the key.
"We fell behind early but then had some blocks that pushed their hitters out of their comfort zones. We were able to come back."
In the second and third sets, attacking mistakes and Northwestern blocking frustrated the UMM hitters, as they committed 18 errors against only 19 kills for two losses (25-20, 25-13).
"We couldn't get anything going," Braegelmann said. "The blocks were demoralizing and we got a little tight in our play."
The Cougars went point for point with the Eagles in the fourth set until the 14-14 mark. Two successive Northwestern kills and another attack error gave them a cushion they would not relinquish, closing the set at 25-20.
Braegelmann said the fourth set revealed a lot about each of the teams.
"I'm impressed with how well we played, especially when you consider we had five freshmen who played a lot of minutes tonight," he said. "But in that fourth set, when Northwestern closed it out, you could see their experience showing through."
Junior Megan Theis led the Cougar hitters with 11 kills and only one error. Sophomore Natalie Thomas had 40 assists. Defensively, junior Jordan Olerud and first-year player Brita Humphrey led UMM with 15 and 10 digs, respectively.
The Cougars end the season with a 15-15 record, a seven-win improvement over 2008 and the most wins for UMM since the 2004 season.
Though disappointed with the loss, Braegelmann already had perspective on what the 2009 Cougars had accomplished.
"We were much better than last year, and deeper too. We improved our talent and skill, but we need to continue working on playing to our potential."