True freshman Nicole Schmitz arguably saved the Jimmies' perfect season in women's volleyball on Saturday night.
Last year's North Dakota Class B senior volleyball player of the year had an errorless 13 of a match-high 18 kills by the end of the second set facing a better-than-advertised 4-6 Midland Warriors' team at Harold Newman Arena. The Jimmies lost the opener 25-23 and won a wild back-and-forth second 31-29 -- highlighted by eight Schmitz kills -- before storming back from eight points down in the third to win 27-25 and finally taking the match 26-24.
The Jimmies survived in four to improve to 10-0 on the season and are 8-0 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
"That was a heckuva team we played," said UJ women's volleyball coach Jon Hegerle. "They've made some switches the last couple of matches and since then they've been playing on fire. They're the best team we've played this year."
The Warriors impressed early, knocking the conference favorites on their heels in the opening game. Sophomore setter Hope Leimbach directed an efficient visiting offense that hit .205 against the Jimmies with 62 assists on the night, finding attackers Taliyah Flores (15), Sydney Morehouse (15), Brooke Fredrickson (14), Maggie Hiatt (14) and Lauryn Samuelson (10) for double-digit kills.
But an on-fire Schmitz early kept the Jimmies afloat. She hit .684 in the opening two games -- slapping a cut shot off the tape and down for one of her kills -- before back-to-back kills by Jayla Ritter and Kalli Hegerle leveled the match at 1-1 after the 60-rally second.
"When you're in that zone that's the stuff that happens," Hegerle said on Schmitz's night. "At one point I just said keep giving Nicole the ball."
Schmitz, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, is obviously adjusting well to the college game as evident by her conference coming-out party. Her previous high in kills during her 10-match career so far was nine.
"The block is not 5-(foot)-4 anymore," laughed Schmitz, pointing out her recent transition from high school competition. "It's a lot of getting in with some extra reps with coach and the girls and learning how to swing higher. Just playing like I do and being loose, instead of focusing on messing up, is my biggest thing."
She also practices against one of the nation's best back rows every day, which is what Midland coach Paul Giesselmann credited as helping turn the tide in the third set.
The Warriors led by as many as eight points (18-10) before UJ called a timeout trailing 22-15. The Jimmies closed on a 12-3 run, which began with a Schmitz kill and ended with four Holen points -- three kills by junior Anna Holen and a service ace by freshman Ellie Holen.
"Prior to giving up that lead we were matching or playing better team defense than they were, and the thing that got them back into that game was they raised their defense," said Giesselmann, in his 11th season coaching the Warriors. "They were digging balls, transitioning and immediate kills. We just weren't able to sustain that."
UJ's Sydney Ellingson (30), Anna Holen (27) and Hannah Schiele (22) combined for 79 digs.
"They were up 22-15 when I called the timeout and I told the team I really believe we're winning this set," Hegerle said. "Part of that is just trying to help your team just relax. But this is why we have a season, to go through things like this and figure out who we are."
Midland, with losses to Concordia, Hastings and Dakota Wesleyan in the conference, has needed time to evolve this fall. Giesselmann said the Warriors lost five recruits in the spring due to personal reasons stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and have needed to adjust on the fly, which has included moving Flores to outside hitter.
Flores was the 2019 GPAC Libero of the Year in 2019 and entered Saturday third in the conference in kills per set at 3.2.
"We've really had to change our team from what I thought it was gonna be this year, and we actually changed it more just in the last week and a half ... but we're playing our best volleyball right now," Giesselmann said. "I've got a ton of respect for Jon's teams. Jamestown was in the final four last year and I feel like this year's team is better than last year's final four team."
An 8-2 UJ spurt in the fourth had the Jimmies leading 16-10, which was just enough cushion against the pesky Warriors in the 26-24 finale. The Jimmies travel to play Doane and Hastings next Friday and Saturday.
No longer a secret in the GPAC, Schmitz's career with the Jimmies is off to a solid start.
"We all knew that we just had to rely on each other, build our pile and work on our mojo instead of what they were doing over there, and that's what really got us through the third set when we had our little moment," Schmitz said. "They all played together last year and had a great team, so I've just been really wanting to come in and give more to that."
Jamestown 3, Midland 1
MID 25 29 25 24
JAM 23 31 27 26
MID -- Kills: Taliyah Flores 15, Sydney Morehouse 15, Brooke Fredrickson 14, Maggie Hiatt 14, Lauryn Samuelson 10. Assists: Hope Leimbach 63. Aces: Leimbach 2, Fredrickson 2, Flores. Digs: Jaisa Russell 21, Leimbach 19, Flores 18, Fredrickson 15, Kaitlynn Simon 9, MacKenzie Sempeck 5. Blocks: Samuelson 2.5, Hiatt 2.5, Morehouse 1.
JAM -- Nicole Schmitz 18, Anna Holen 12, Corina Huff 12, Taylor Sabinash 8, Jayla Ritter 6, Kalli Hegerle 6, Meiklejohn, Megan Gaffaney. Assists: Meiklejohn 28, Gaffaney 28, Sydney Ellingson 3, Sabinash. Aces: Ellingson, Ellie Holen. Digs: Ellingson 30, A. Holen 27, Hannah Schiele 22, Gaffaney 11, Meiklejohn 5, Hegerle 3, Schmitz 3, Sabinash 2, E. Holen. Blocks: Ritter 3.5, Huff 3, Hegerle 2, Schmitz 1.5, A. Holen 0.5, Sabinash 0.5.
Records: Jamestown 10-0, 8-0 GPAC. Midland 4-6, 3-5.