East vb 10/5

Mankato East’s Nicole Gosson (3) sneaks a kill past Rochester Mayo’s Molly Campbell (2) and Brittini Hoosier during Thursday’s Big Nine Conference volleyball match at the East gym.

Maybe it was the pressure of playing for the Big Nine Conference championship, perhaps the nerves of Parent’s Night. Or maybe Rochester Mayo has a good team.

For some reason, it took a while for the Mankato East volleyball team to find its rhythm Thursday, and by then, it was too late.

“We didn’t take good care of the ball tonight,” East coach Bob Gospeter said. “We were too wound up, or too tight. You can’t give (Mayo) any free balls and not expect them to send them back.”

Mayo (15-4) won 25-16, 25-15, 28-30, 25-17 to claim at least a share of the Big Nine title. East could have pulled into a tie with Mayo had it won.

“It’s disappointing,” senior Kirstie Schriock said. “We wanted that one bad.”

Mayo took control early in the first game, building on a 9-8 lead with six consecutive points. A 7-1 run later in the game made it 24-14 as East’s longest streak was two straight points, and Mayo finished at 25-16.

East opened up Game 2 with a 10-4 lead as Mariah Verkinderen had a kill and two blocks. But Mayo scored 17 of the next 18 points and rolled to the 25-15 victory.

“Against good teams, you have to keep the pressure on,” Gospeter said. “We didn’t give our setter anything to work with; we were just kind of free-balling it over.”

Mayo appeared ready to sweep the match, jumping out 8-3, but the Cougars responded with a 7-1 run, capped by a pair of kills from Emily Crain to take the lead. East’s advantage grew to 23-17 before Mayo made a spirited six-point run.

A serve error gave East a chance to end the game, but Mayo scored three straight and had a serve to finish the match. Nicole Gosson’s kill kept East alive and set up another game point, but the Spartans answered.

Finally, Gosson’s kill made it 29-28 and a hitting error allowed East to force a fourth game.

“You never want to finish completely out of it,” Gospeter said. “We were able to pull ourselves together and come back and win.”

Mayo led the entire final game as East had trouble stringing together any runs. The Cougars pulled within 16-11, 20-14 and 23-16 before the Spartans celebrated their conference championship.

Gosson and Schriock both had eight kills to lead East, and Heather Jaqua made 20 digs. Schriock added 17 digs, and Kerri Jones had 18 assists.

Mayo’s Molly Campbell had 16 kills and five blocks, and Bevy Lehman had 14 kills.

East (14-7, 5-2 in Big Nine) plays at Winona on Thursday.

“I think we’ll move on and learn from this,” Schriock said. “We’ll play better next time.”

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