MCCOOK – The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team will be making a 14th straight trip to the national tournament after sweeping past Northeastern Junior College 25-19, 25-10, 25-17 in the championship of the Region IX tournament in McCook on Saturday.
Not only did the Cougars earn another regional championship, the team also picked up plenty of individual honors. Yoro Tovar, who pounded home nine kills in the win Saturday, was named the tournament Most Valuable Player.
Also earning all-tournament honors was Danika Youngblood, who pounded home a match-high 14 kills, and Luiza Martins, who was also named the Region IX Setter of the Year as well as Region IX Freshman of the Year.
Four Cougars were also named to the All-Region team in Youngblood, Martins, Alex Rivera and Kat Agson. WNCC coach Giovana Melo, who was tabbed the Coach of the Year, said this is a pretty special team, considering how far they have come from a bad showing in the Regis University scrimmage in August to now.
“They are a pretty good group. We have come a long ways from that Regis scrimmage to now and it is a really different team,” Melo said. “We knew we had talent. We knew it would take a well. We knew where we were able to get and it was just a matter of time. This group is a really good group and they work really hard. They know what they want.”
The Cougars moved to 37-2 on the season and have won 31 straight matches. There last loss came on Sept. 1 against North Idaho College.
Saturday’s encounter with Northeastern Junior College was a battle in the first set, but afterwards, the Cougars put on the afterburner to pick up the championship trophy. Melo said it feels great to bring home a regional title to this storied program.
“It is obviously a great feeling and just not about this year but the success we have had in the program overall,” she said. “It shows how hard the girls have been working this year and it obviously feels really good to go home with another title.”
Well the opening set was close, after that Melo said the players stepped up their game.
“They were pretty anxious and excited and there was a little bit of emotions in the beginning of the match,” she said. “But once we got past the first game, it was obvious how much they wanted it.”
WNCC jumped to a 13-7 lead at one time only to watch NJC slice the lead to 19-17 late, but Tovar finished off the set with a hammering kill.
The second set was all WNCC as Martins served four straight points to start the contest and the Cougars went up 15-7. After an Agson kill, Priscila Mendes served five points for a 21-8 lead. Tovar then served the final two points for the 25-10 win.
Martins started the third set off with four straight points for a 5-1 lead. After NJC cut the lead to 9-7, WNCC put on the afterburner with three points, including two aces, from Alex Rivera followed by Martins getting two points for a 19-9 lead. WNCC led 24-12 before the Plainswomen put together a four-point run, but Youngblood finished off the match with a championship kill.
WNCC pounded the ball with authority, registering 37 total kills. Youngblood had 14, Agson 13, Tovar nine, Mendes seven, and Megan Johnson four.
Melo thought all the hitters stepped up in different situations and hitting rotations.
“I thought all the hitters got pretty involved,” she said. “We have been working on distributing the ball a little bit more. We told our setters to distribute the ball because we do have a lot of options with a lot of kids that are doing a good job in putting the ball away for us.”
Martins, Region IX South’s setter and freshman of the year, finished with a triple-double with 15 points, 40 set assists, and 15 digs. She also had one ace. Also for the Cougars, Rivera had seven points, five set assists, and 15 digs; Youngblood had 12 digs; Mendes had nine digs, two blocks, and two aces; and Tovar had two blocks, seven digs, and six points.
With the win, the Cougars will now take part in the national tournament with hopes of capturing its second national championship in three years. They last won the title in 2010. WNCC first won a national title in 2007.
Melo said this team can compete for a national title, but they need to eliminate the little mistakes that they are making and become more consistent.
“We make some errors on certain plays where we really don’t have to,” she said. “I think we will have to work really hard for that because we can’t mistakes that we are making against really good teams when it comes down to one or two points. When we are at nationals, everybody that we will be playing will be up to our level. Hopefully we can get them ready for nationals in the next week.”
The national tournament will be played Nov. 15-17 in West Plains, Mo. Pairings for the tournament should be out this week.