Northwest freshman Payton Kirchhoefer goes up for a kill against Central Missouri on Saturday in Warrensburg. 

WARRENSBURG, Mo. — For the second season in a row, the Northwest Missouri State volleyball team's search for its first MIAA championship was snuffed out in the fifth set of the MIAA Championship match.

This year's result has an important twist which differs from last season. During the spring season, there was no NCAA Tournament, so the loss to Nebraska-Kearney ended the season. For the fourth-ranked team in the nation, who beat fifth-ranked Washburn in the MIAA semifinals and pushed third-ranked Central Missouri to its limit in the final, the season is not done and they will soon learn their regional road.

“Just keep their heads up,” Northwest coach Amy Woerth said in her message to the team. “From the standpoint of our body of work, it is really good. We haven't had any bad losses. I didn't talk about last season, I talked about this season. Our body of work is good. We are going to leave it into the regional committee's hands to see if we play postseason, which I think we will, and go from there.”

In the most recent regional rankings, Northwest was third behind Central Missouri and St. Cloud State. Both teams above Northwest won their conference tournaments and Washburn was ranked fourth, so the Bearcats are likely to remain third.

“The bigger picture of this is that we have a whole other tournament to play that is coming up, so we are excited about that,” Woerth said. “We didn't end up on the right side of what we wanted to tonight, but we've got some more volleyball to play.”

On Saturday night, the Bearcats (26-5, 17-3 MIAA) had the reverse of last spring's final against Nebraska-Kearney when they fell behind 2-0 and rallied to force a fifth set. This time, the Bearcats started fast.

Freshman middle hitter Avery Kemp was a force in the first two sets as Northwest won the first 25-13 and the second 25-20. Kemp finished the match with a team-leading and career-high 18 kills.

“She is such a competitive kid,” Woerth said. “She wants to get after it, and she has let that shine.”

Alyssa Rezac was strong with 52 assists and no setting errors. She had three kills.

Central Missouri (28-3, 18-2 MIAA) roared back beginning in the third set with a 25-20 win. That allowed the home crowd to get fired up, and they took the fourth set 25-18.

“I just thought they were putting service pressure on us, and offensively, they were getting some things going to put pressure on our defense,” Woerth said.

The Jennies kicked off the celebration in Warrensburg with a 15-10 win in the fifth set.

Payton Kirchhoefer, Kelsey Havel and Rezac were selected to the MIAA All-Tournament Team.

The selection show is scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m.