Posted 11 months ago
By John Axtell
When the Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team begins Region IX South tournament action this weekend, they will be looking to win their 15th straight regional tournament and berth in the national tournament.
More importantly, though, winning the regional tournament will continue the team’s dream of getting back to the national championship match, where last year the sophomores left the national tournament heart-broken and teary-eyed after falling to the College of Southern Idaho in the championship.
“It [getting back to the national tournament] has been one of their biggest goals for the sophomores since last year after they went through that loss,” WNCC coach Giovana Melo said. “It wasn’t easy for them as it wasn’t easy for any of us. The sophomores have taken on big roles this season and have done a good job this season.”
The loss has been the focus of the team as they started their “Unfinished Business” trek to get back to the national tournament in hopes of bringing home a national title. That trek really all begins Friday when the Cougars compete in the Region IX South Tournament in Trinidad, Colo.
The third-ranked Cougars play Friday at 11 a.m. against the winner of Lamar Community College and Trinidad State. That match will be played Thursday night along with the other first round contest pitting Otero Junior College against McCook College. The Otero/McCook winner will play at 9 a.m. Friday against No. 2 seed Northeastern Junior College.
The championship is slated for Saturday at 1 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Nov. 21-23 national tournament in Casper, Wyo.
Melo said that this team has exceeded her expectations, especially the last two matches where they played extremely well in dropping No. 20 NJC twice. A big part of that is the heart that this team has showed throughout the season.
“I think this team has a lot of heart and they have showed that they have a lot of heart throughout the season,” Melo said. “I am glad we were able to pull out some wins and just keep getting better and better.
The Cougars rolled through the regular season with a 34-3 record and were 33-3 against NJCAA Division I teams. The Cougars also defeated NJCAA Division II No. 1 Cowley County Community College. The season wouldn’t be complete, though, without mention what this team accomplished in sub-region team.
For the first time since the 2007 season, the Cougars swept every sub-region opponent. Melo still can’t believe how well her team played when they had to.
“I don’t really think it was our goal to beat everybody 3-0 in the south sub-region, but it is something good that we have done,” she said. “But, I don’t think it is good to have that good of a regular season and then go to the post season and not do well. Our focus right know is Region IX and the post season.”
The Cougars have been off for the past two weeks, but they shouldn’t be rusty when they hit the court Friday morning. The team has been working hard in practice to keep that rust off. A big part of the Cougars success this season is their depth.
What has driven the Cougars this season is the running of the 6-2 offense, led by setters Luiza Martins and Morgan Broussard. The two sophomores have really distributed the ball to their hitters, and that too had been hard for other teams to stop.
“I am pleased with the offense and obviously I continued to go with the 6-2 offense all season because of that,” Melo said. “I think we are very hard to stop when we are playing well in the 6-2 because we have three hitters in the front row. They are a threat all the time and it wouldn’t be the same if we had a 5-1. I am very happy that we were able to do that this year.”
Another plus riding on the Cougars side is the versatility of their hitters. The Cougars have several hitters that can play either outside, middle or the rightside. The more important aspect of the hitters is that any one of them can lead the team in kills. Melo likes having a team of
“We don’t have hitters in the top of the rankings with a lot of kills or blocks, but it is the fact that every single one of them can get the job done and put balls away for us,” she said. “I think that variety is very helpful for us because it is hard for other teams to defend when we have a lot of really good players coming in and putting the ball away.”
WNCC had five hitters that are averaging near two kills or more a set. Kayla Martin leads the team with a 3.02 average. The freshman from Bakersfield, Calif., has pounded down 363 kills this season. The other offensive threats include Leticia Silva at 2.46 kills per set (290 kills); Priscila Mendes at 2.26 (260 kills); Allora Tanner with 1.80 per set (225 kills); Kylie Fa’amoe with 1.51 per set (181); and Gabrielle Varela at 1.6 per set (104 kills).
“This is the first year that we have one, two, there, and four players that can play different hitting positions,” Melo said. “So, it is extremely hard to defend against that because one game they can play outside and another game they can be a middle or on the rightside. That is an advantage we have against other teams.”
And if everything goes as the team hopes, the team will be that much closer to that dream of getting to the national tournament.
“I think they have one goal in mind that is to win regionals and make it to nationals no matter what kind of pressure comes to it,” Melo said. “I think they are really ready to play and wanting to get out there. I think we ended the regular season playing really well and that was our biggest goal. But just because we ended well we still have to practice well if we want to push things further on in the post season.”
Region IX South Tournament Schedule
Thursday, Nov. 7
5 p.m. – No. 3 Otero vs. No. 6 McCook
7 p.m. – No. 4 Trinidad State vs. No. 5 Lamar
Friday, Nov. 8
9 a.m. – No. 2 NJC vs. Otero/McCook winner
11 a.m. – No. 1 WNCC vs. Trinidad/Lamar winner
1 p.m. – 9 a.m. game loser vs. Trinidad/Lamer loser
3 p.m. – 11 a.m. game loser vs. Otero/McCook loser
5 p.m. – 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. game winners
7 p.m. – 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. game winners
Saturday, Nov. 9
10 a.m. – 7 p.m. winner vs. 5 p.m. loser
1 a.m. – Championship Match
3 p.m. – if necessary Match