WAHOO – Malcolm may not have a win at the state tournament in program history, but Thursday night’s five-set thriller over Bishop Neumann sure felt like that kind of win for the Clippers.
Malcolm, 26, rode a dominating performance from junior Creighton recruit Jaela Zimmerman to knock off 23-2 Neumann 21-25, 25-22, 24-26, 25-18, 15-10 in front of a standing-room only crowd and electric atmosphere.
Malcolm’s first 25 wins of the season did not include any over a ranked opponent in C-1 or higher, meanwhile Neumann came into the match as the champions of the Centennial Conference – the most fierce in all of Class C-1. When the Cavaliers rallied from a 24-20 deficit to beat Malcolm 26-24 in the third set and go up 2-1, that looked like where Neumann’s experience would take over and lead them to victory.
Malcolm and Zimmerman had other ideas.
“It’s insane. This was big for us (NSAA wild card) point-wise, confidence-wise, just everything,” Zimmerman said following the match in which she had 31 kills – including eight in the fifth set. “We wanted this so bad we were going to go out there and get it no matter what we had to do.”
Malcolm coach Amber Dolliver, who made a crucial change to her line-up – altering it three spots to get Zimmerman in the front row immediately – after dropping the first set said there was never a question in her mind how hard the Clippers were going to fight.
“They know I believe in them and they believe in each other … they don’t let things rattle them,” Dolliver said. “They are not going to roll over. Somebody can come out and take a set or get a big hit and our girls just keep fighting whatever the score is. They are just a good group of girls who are just going to keep working hard.”
Dolliver’s adjustment to get Zimmerman in the front row to start the set paid off with the Clippers being able to get out to early leads in each of the final four sets – including the fifth set as Malcolm stormed to an 9-3 lead with Zimmerman getting seven kills in that stretch. At that point, however, Zimmerman rotated to the back row and Neumann took advantage to make a run at the Clippers.
A kill by Neumann’s Caitlin Makvocka and a pair of errors from Malcolm helped the Cavaliers get within 11-6, but Nebraska walk-on back row recruit Hayley Densberger’s 21 kill of the night and an ace serve from McKenzie Nutter got Malcolm’s lead up to 13-6.
Following a Neumann timeout, Neumann all-state sophomore Kelsie Cada ripped three straight kills to make it 13-9. Cada, who led Neumann with 21 kills, then nearly made it four straight, but her attack landed just wide as Malcolm got its first match point at 14-9. Neumann fought off one match point, but Zimmerman’s blast ended the set and match.
Brooklyn Minzel added five kills and three blocks for Malcolm while setter Gracie England dished out 54 assists. Makovicka ended the night with 14 kills for Neumann and sisters Hannah and Lindsey Thiele each had 10. Alyssa Rezac led the Cavaliers with 34 assists and Jessica Rada added 28.