USAF ACADEMY, Colo. – The Air Force volleyball team capped off the home portion of its season with a thrilling 3-2 victory over New Mexico this evening (Nov. 15) at Cadet East Gym. With the 25-18, 21-25, 16-25, 25-23, 15-11 victory, the Falcons concluded their Academy campaign with five-straight home wins and a 7-6 mark on their home court.
The Falcons’ victory also snapped a 26-match losing skid to the Lobos that dated back to 2003.
Air Force out-killed its visitors by a 12-kill margin, as junior Abigail Miksch (19), senior Piper Heineck (13) and junior Lauren Heldt (12) combined for 44 of the team’s 61 kills. The Falcons also saw a trio of players tally double-digit totals in digs (sophomore Denise Ssozi: 14, junior Shanleigh Conlan: 12, freshman Alex King: 10), while Conlan nabbed her ninth double-double of the season with 48 assists. Freshman Jordan Daniels accounted for half of the team’s 10 service aces (career-best five) and Heineck accounted for a match-high nine blocks (one solo, eight assisted) in her final home contest at the Academy.
The two teams traded the opening points of the match, with Heineck earning the Falcons’ first point (1-1). Miksch and Conlan put down kills to give Air Force at two-point lead (5-3), while a score from Ssozi kept the margin at two (8-6). New Mexico evened the match at nine and took its own two-point lead at 11-9. Highlighted by back-to-back service aces from Daniels, the Falcons scored the next four points to go up 13-11. The Lobos evened the set at 13 and the squads traded the next several points, with Air Force earning its tallies off of kills from Ssozi and Miksch. Conlan put down a pair of aces to break a 16-all tie, while a pair of kills from Heldt helped push the Falcons’ lead to six (22-16). Heldt and freshman Kathleen Medill added kills, as Air Force took the opening set by a 25-18 margin.
Kills from Heldt and Heineck, as well as another ace from Daniels, helped Air Force take an early 3-1 lead to start the second set, but New Mexico responded with the next four points to go up 5-3. A pair of scores from Miksch evened the set at six and the two squads traded the next 20 scores, with Air Force earning set-tying kills from Heineck (two), Heldt (two), Miksch (two), Ssozi (two) and Medill (one). The Lobos scored four straight points to break a 17-all tie and take a 21-17 advantage. Miksch (two) and Ssozi (one) put down kills to pull the Falcons within one (22-21), but New Mexico tallied the final three points to tie the match at one with the 25-21 set win.
Heineck (kill) and Daniels (ace) gave the Falcons their first two points (2-1), but New Mexico used an 11-0 run to take a commanding 12-2 advantage. Heineck stopped the run with a solo block and added a kill, but the Lobos pushed their lead to 11 (18-7) and forced Air Force into its second timeout. Medill put down a pair of kills, while an attacking error by the Lobos put the Falcons in double digits (10-19). Heineck registered another kill and assisted with Heldt on a block, but New Mexico took the set, 25-16.
New Mexico scored the first two points of the fourth set, before Medill and Conlan teamed up for a block to spark a 4-0 run by the Falcons (4-2). Air Force pushed its lead to six (11-5) behind an ace from Conlan and kills from Heineck (two), Miksch (two), Medill and Heldt. The Lobos scored the next seven points, before Heldt stopped the run to tie the set at 12. The visitors retook the lead and pushed their advantage to five (18-13), before Air Force scored the next seven points to take a 20-18 lead. Medill notched an ace during the run, while Miksch put down a pair of kills and teamed up with Heineck for two blocks. The Lobos responded with the next five points (23-20), but Heineck accounted for the final five scores (one kill, two blocks with Heldt, two blocks with Miksch), as Air Force captured the 25-23 win. Heldt put down a pair of kills, as Air Force took a quick 3-1 lead to open the deciding set. The Lobos scored the next three points, before a score from Ssozi evened the set at four. Heldt added an equalizing kill at five-all, while Daniels notched her fifth ace to give Air Force the lead (6-5). A kill from Ssozi and a service ace from freshman Kelly Motes put the Falcons up by two (8-6), as the teams switched sides. The Lobos tied the set at two plays later, but multiple kills from Miksch (three) and Heineck (two) contributed to five of the Falcons’ next six points, as Air Force reached match-point at 14-10. Heldt put down the final kill that secured the Falcons’ comeback with a 15-11 victory.
“That was awesome,” head coach Marc Swindle said of his first victory over the Lobos – a team he helped coach for two years prior to coming to the Academy. “We were pretty mediocre for a couple sets, but we flipped our lineup, flipped our middles, and rotated a little differently. With Andi (Ahlers) being sick, we ran the 5-1 with Shan and she did a great job. That was a monster match by Lauren – 12 kills and only two errors, that’s just incredible. Keith, Elysse and Seth had an incredible game plan to get ready for (New Mexico). I think the changes we made in the middle of the match to counteract what they did to counteract us was due to the smart coaching of my assistants.”
The Falcons close out the 2017 campaign on Saturday (Nov. 18), when they travel to Las Vegas to face UNLV at 1:00 p.m. (PST) inside Cox Pavilion.