Ashley Kell turned to fellow senior Nikki Vandepopulier midway through the first game of the Missouri State volleyball team’s match Friday evening.
“I think I broke my thumb,” said Kell, a Houston native.
Vandepopulier was stunned.
“I didn’t even know what to say,” she said afterward.
Kell had broken her right thumb on an attempted block, and she had to come out of the match several points later.
Although freshman Julia Cawthra filled in admirably, the loss of Kell hamstrung the Bears as they lost 25-20, 25-17, 25-13 to No. 11 Wichita State in front of 839 fans at Hammons Student Center.
“It was numb as soon as it happened, and I knew if it would stay numb, I could maybe play through it,” Kell said. “So I served like four balls. I set a couple sets, and then it was pretty much all pain from there.”
The Shockers finish the regular season undefeated, and they could meet the Bears (20-12, 11-7 Missouri Valley Conference) again in the MVC tournament.
Wichita State (29-0, 18-0) will play the winner of the match between the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams. The fourth-seeded Bears open the tournament Thursday in Wichita, Kan.
“We just have to look at it like we’ve got nothing to lose,” Vandepopulier said. “We’re the No. 4 seed, so we will be the underdog in the tournament. People won’t expect us to come out and play well, but we know what we’re capable of. We just have to go out there and play like that.”
With several starters already playing banged up, the last thing the Bears could afford was another injury.
When Kell went out, it forced the Bears into yet another unfamiliar lineup.
“Bottom line is, we were in a rotation we hadn’t been in all year in the second and third set, and it showed,” MSU volleyball coach Melissa Stokes said. “You can’t play the No. 11 team in the country like that.”
Cawthra finished the match with 21 assists while Kell had four before leaving the match. Kell had been averaging 9.67 assists per game this season.
“Julia didn’t miss a beat,” Vandepopulier said. “But we missed ‘A-Kell’s’ leadership, and I know it must have been killing her.”
On the night where Kell, Vandepopulier and Terri Del Conte were honored as the team’s three seniors, Kell spent the final two games sitting on the bench with an ice pack on her right hand.
“It was really hard,” Kell said. “You want to be out there doing your part, especially on senior night.”