SIOUX CITY, IA—The magical run the McPherson College volleyball team has been on this season, came to an end on Thursday night. The Bulldogs played their final match in pool play at the 2018 NAIA National Volleyball Tournament against the Marian University Knights.
In order to make it out of pool play and into a playoff match for the chance of making into the round of 16, the Bulldogs needed to get a win over the Knights, and then they needed the 9th-seeded Rocky Mountain College Battlin Bears to upset the 8th-seeded Red Raiders of Northwestern College in the 8 p.m. match.
Know what was at stake, the Bulldogs came out flat against the Knights in the opening set. They struggled to get their offense going, and the Knights took advantage and took the first set in lopsided fashion 25-12. The Bulldogs righted the ship in the second set, and found their form again. They led the Knights for most of the set, but never by more than two points. Late in the set, they finally had a three-point cushion and had three set points at 24-21. In their first two matches of pool play, the Bulldogs struggled closing out sets, and in set two Thursday, it happened again. The Knights won the final five points of the set to win it 26-24, and take a commanding two sets to none lead in the match.
Facing the possibility of their season ending with another straight sets loss in pool play, the Bulldogs responded by playing some of their best volleyball of the season. They got back into the match by taking the third set 25-19, then kept the momentum going, leveling the match at two sets apiece, by dominating the fourth set, 25-16. The Bulldogs are no stranger to five set matches this season. Coming into the final site tournament, they had played in eight five set matches, including their opening round match to make it to the final site. They were a perfect 8-0 in those matches, never shrinking away from the challenge or the pressure. Devrie Sombers was asked by a group of Bulldog supporters prior to the tournament, about her teams' attitude heading into the deciding set of a match. She responded by saying, "I feel like if we can get to the fifth set, we are going to win"
That confidence showed up again against the Knights. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead, and then led 8-5 when the teams traded ends of the floor. They led 9-6, and looked like they were going to cruise to the victory. The Knights had other ideas, and they made things interesting by winning four points in a row to take a 10-9 lead over the Bulldogs. True to their nature in deciding sets, the Bulldogs remained calm, and went on a 4-0 run of their own to retake the lead 13-10. They then won two of the next three points to close out the set 15-11.
On offense, the Bulldogs had three players finish the match with double digit kill totals. They were led once again by Lexi Kite who had 12 kills on 41 attempts. Right behind her was fellow senior, Leia Seiler with 11, and then Riley Bradbury rounded things out with 10.
On the defensive sided, Libero Jamie Siess led the way with 26 defensive digs, with Kite close behind with 26. At the net, the Bulldogs recorded seven blocks, led by Sombers, who assisted on four of them.
Heading into the final day of pool play, the Bulldogs were 0-2, Marian was 1-1 as was Northwestern, and Rocky Mountain was 2-0. With Bulldogs' come from behind win, they finished pool play tied with the Knights at 1-2, but had the tie breaker over them with the direct win. If Rocky Mountain defeated Northwestern in the final match, the Bulldogs and Red Raiders would have had to play a playoff match to determine who would join the Bears in the round of 16 from pool H. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders defeated the bears in straight sets, and the Bulldogs were left on the outside looking in. Still, the Bulldogs and their seniors got to do something that few teams get to do, and that is finish their season with a win.
"What an amazing end to an amazing season,"said fill-in head coach Maggie Hans. "These girls truly out shined themselves tonight. They put everything on the floor for each other, and we were a unstoppable force of voice from the bench that fed our fire on the floor. All seniors truly took charge with both skill and leadership to pull that 5 set game together."
The Bulldogs finished a historic season with a 34-4 record, setting a new record for wins in a season, and making it to the National Tournament for the first time in program history. They graduate 4 irreplaceable seniors, but the cupboard is definitely not empty next year. They have three starters returning, and three more players back who were major contributors in the rotation. The future of Bulldog volleyball definitely looks promising.