The University of Alaska Fairbanks and Simon Fraser University, the two 6-3 teams in Great Northwest Athletic Conference, took to the Alaska Airlines Court at the Patty Center on Saturday, with the third place spot in the conference up for grabs.
The Clan came away with the prize after clinching a 17-25, 25-21, 25-21, 21-25, 17-15 victory. The Nanooks, 9-9 overall and 6-4 GNAC, have lost their past three games and fell to fifth place in the GNAC.
The five sets featured 28 tie scores and 11 lead changes.
“I love matches like that to be honest with you, where win or lose I don’t know if you can feel too horrible about it because you just played hard,” Nanooks head coach Brian Scott said after the game.
“They’re the best in terms of backcourt defense there is in the conference, probably one of the best in the country in terms of that, and so it’s really hard to get a ball to drop a ball down on those guys.
“For us to come up with 51 kills tonight and almost dig just as much as they did,” the Nanooks tallied 76 and the Clan made 86, “you know that’s pretty stellar on our part.”
Red-shirt junior Markie Miller made her third start of the season for the Nanooks, contributed 12 kills for UAF — good for second on the team behind Lahra Weber’s 13 — and was the star of the night.
The red-shirt junior lit up the first set with five kills, she followed up a kill with an ace to seal Nanooks’ fourth-set win and posted a team-high four kills in the fifth set. Not to mention, her hits could be heard around the whole Patty Center and often brought the crowd to its feet.
“Markie has a great arm and it showed tonight. She had some balls that blew people up and practically put a dent in the floor,” Scott said. “We like when Markie goes in to do what Markie does best and that is to rip the cover off of a ball.”
The Nanooks were down 10-12 in the first set, before Miller’s second kill kicked off a five point run.
“I never once felt in the first set like it was out of our hands. I felt like we kind of owned the whole thing... They came back into the second set and really just matched that intensity that we were doing out there.”
The Clan’s Johal Farnaaz, who was held to two kills in the first set, found her swing progressively through each set, putting down 15 more by the end of the game. She also contributed a team-high five blocks.
Farnaaz’s attacking and a strong performance from the Clan’s back row kept UAF from breaking ahead in sets two and three. Set four featured eight tie scores before Weber made a kill to give the Nanooks a 15-14 advantage and a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Errors plagued both teams in the fourth set, with the Nanooks making 10 (six attacking at three serving) and the Clan committing seven (all attacking), which was enough to be the difference in the game.
“Where it stings is when it comes to the fifth set and just the number of unforced errors,” Scott said. “We had more errors than they did in the fifth set and it’s a two point game, but I’m really proud of these girls tonight.
“These girls are probably beating themselves up enough about those errors, they all feel like it’s their fault and really we all had a part to play in that.”
“Yeah, tonight really sucked, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted but we’ve got a really good game coming up again on Tuesday and then again the next week,” junior Emily Moorhead said after Saturday’s game. The middle blocker led the team with a .316 hitting percentage.
“Next ball, next game, keep working.”
The Nanooks are in the middle of the toughest stretch of their schedule.
The team kicks off a four-game road trip when it travels to take on second-place GNAC team and state rival University of Alaska Anchorage at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Anchorage.
The Seawolves are fresh off a four set upset victory over No. 2 Western Washington.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.