Wilkening, seniors lead Pack past Highlands in five set thriller

Wilkening, seniors lead Pack past Highlands in five set thriller

PUEBLO, Colo. (November 1, 2016) –  In the final homestand of their Pack careers, the Colorado State University-Pueblo Volleyball senior class shined the brightest when it counted most, leading the Pack to a five-set victory over New Mexico Highlands University (25-15, 20-25, 29-27, 20-25, 15-13) Tuesday night at Massari Arena.

The win looms large for the Pack as it puts them above .500 in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play at 8-7. CSU-Pueblo now sits just a half game back of the eighth and final RMAC Tournament spot with three games remaining.

Senior captain Morgan Wilkening (Fleming, Colo.) led by example with a season-high 16 kills.  Wilkening's third straight 10+ kill performance moved her into fifth place all-time at CSU-Pueblo with 1,067 kills, just one-kill shy of fourth place. She hit .406 for the match. Wilkening also added four digs and a block.

Tanja Ranilovic (Sr., Belgrade, Serbia) filled the stat sheet with nine kills, eight digs, and five blocks. Ranilovic's eight digs set a new career-high. She hit .231 in the contest.

Senior Megan Schultz (Colorado Springs, Colo.) matched a season-high with 10 kills. Schultz hit .320 for the match with six digs and three blocks. She also found the floor with a service ace.

Katie Burnett (Sr., Austin, Texas) continued to make an impact from the service line. Burnett added two more aces and now sits just three away from the single season aces record.

Already the school's career digs leader, Burnett added 28 more to her record, 5.60 digs/set for the match. Her 5.13 digs/set would be a single-season record and puts on pace to be the career digs/set leader.

Though the seniors shined, Caitlin Broadwell (Jr., Lawrence, Kan.) helped lead the Pack to the win as well. Broadwell matched Wilkening for a match-high 16 kills. She also provided a career-high 11 digs defensively, giving Broadwell her third double-double of the season.

Junior setter Elena Michalski (Longmont, Colo.) finished with 27 assists and seven digs. She also tied her season-best with four service aces.

Freshman Page Heller (Vancouver, Wash.) tallied 21 digs in three sets. Heller added four digs.

In the first set, it seemed like the Pack would cruise past Highlands. The ThunderWolves outhit the visitors .325 to .091 en route to a 25-15 win in the opening frame.  Broadwell had four kills and four digs in the first.

It looked like the ThunderWolves would go into the break with a two-set lead when they held a 20-16 edge in the second. However, the Cowgirls would not go away without a fight. They closed the second set on a 9-0 run to tie it up at one set apiece.

Set three stayed close. The Pack would open up a 21-15 lead, but Highlands went on a 9-3 to tie the set at 24. Though the Cowgirls would fight off five game points, the Pack would close out the third 29-27 thanks to kills from Wilkening and Broadwell .

ShiAnn Rodriguez (R-Fr., Pueblo, Colo.) had five kills and five digs for the Pack in the third set. The five kills set a new career-high for Rodriguez.

Highlands proved feisty in set four. The Cowgirls took control with a six-point run that put them up 9-4. They would go on to win the fourth set 25-20 to force a fifth set.

In the fifth, it looked like Highlands, might escape Pueblo with the win. They held a 13-10 late in the set. A Ranilovic kill and a Highlands error began a crucial five-point run for the Pack.

With the Pack down 13-12 in the final set, it was another senior who came up with the big play. Mariangel Perez (Catia La Mar, Venezuela) had her initial attack blocked. With the ball coming back at her off the block, Perez fired a first-touch attack into the back corner of the Highlands zone to end the long rally and tie the game at 13.

The Pack would score the match's final two points following this clutch play by Perez. She finished with eight kills and 12 blocks. Perez has 10 or more digs in 10 consecutive matches.

The ThunderWolves now own a 10-14 record overall, while NMHU drops to 5-15 (2-13 RMAC).  CSU-Pueblo will continue its homestand Saturday for senior night. The Pack will celebrate the careers of its five seniors Saturday in a 7 p.m. match with Westminster

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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics