Observer staff

A season that Head Coach Kaki McLean-Morehead said exceeded her expectations came to an end for the Eastern Oregon volleyball team.

The 11th-ranked Mountaineers took an early set from No. 5 Dordt College, but came up short in their bid for a national quarterfinal berth in a 23-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-19 loss to the Defenders Friday at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.

“We rallied with them quite a bit but again we made errors that cost us,” McLean-Morehead said. “Dordt is a team that just doesn’t make mistakes.”

Eastern found itself in an 8-3 hole early in the first set, but they rallied to pull even at 12-12 and eventually took a 20-19 lead on two kills by Cambree Scott and a kill by Megan Bunn. The teams traded points to 22-22, but EOU scored three of the final four points for the set, with a kill by Hailee Ackerman sandwiched between a couple DC errors.

The Defenders methodically pulled away in the second set, using an extended 14-6 run to build a 19-11 lead on a Robyn Underwood ace.

Two runs — one of 6-0 and another of 6-1 — helped Dordt blow open what for a while was a close third set. EOU was within 10-9 in the stanza before the first run gave Dordt what proved to be an insurmountable lead.

Eastern fought to a 13-13 tie in the fourth and stayed as close as just down 19-17 after an error by DC. But one final flurry ended the match, with Ava Van Soelen finishing it off with a kill.

Ema Altena led four Defenders in double figures with 21 kills in the win.

Bunn had 12 kills in the loss for EOU, and Ackerman added eight kills. Jet Taylor recorded seven kills and three blocks to share the team lead with Scott. Kiley McMurtrey had 21 digs, and Megan Bunn had 16 digs. Madison Pilon added 22 assists, and Sarah Carpenter finished with 17.

EOU, which finished 25-9 overall, loses just two seniors — Carpenter and Holli Mullins — to graduation, though McMurtrey is set to graduate early. McLean-Morehead said there is a chance the sophomore could be back in 2019, a season that the coach said will have higher expectations.

“There is great value and experience to be gained (at nationals), and with all the pieces we had this year we learned a ton,” she said. “Going forward they know what it takes in the offseason…. (But) now making the Sweet 16 isn’t good enough. We want to make the next step.”