By WNCC Athletics
CASPER, Wyo. – The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team is returning to the NJCAA national tournament as Region IX champions.
Led by Karen Cordero with 25 kills, the Cougar topped Northeastern Junior College in five sets 12-25, 25-23, 25-20, 23-25, 15-7 in Region IX Tournament finals in Casper, Wyoming, Friday evening.
The win was special for the Cougar players as they struggled in the first set, but responded after that.
“We had a rough first set, but we bounced back in the second and third,” sophomore Olivia Schaub said. “We played the best in the fifth set which was the most important set to win. Overall, we came together as a team to get a huge win.”
NJC still has a change to qualify as they are playing in the consolation bracket. NJC will face the winner of the Central Wyoming and Laramie County Community College game at 4 p.m. with that winner also qualifying for nationals.
WNCC head coach Binny Canales said it was a big win for the program.
“It is a great feeling [to get back to nationals],” he said. “These kids fought. I think we were picked third behind Otero and NJC and they were ranked higher than us in the national polls. We came back and kept plugging away, practicing, coming in early, working on weekends doing everything that is necessary.”
Schaub said this was a special win for the team after coming so close a year ago.
“It means the entire world to us to win regionals,” she said. “We have worked so hard and put in lots of hours in the gym to get where we are. We are excited to bring the title back home!”
Canales said the first set was a nightmare, but the team responded and played well after that.
“The first set was a nightmare,” he said. “They fought back and grew up a lot between set one and set two. They just kept fighting. We knew we weren’t as bad as the score in the first set so we had to settle down and start playing.”
Schaub said the key to the win was their passing.
“The key for the win was our passing,” she said. “Without a pass you can’t set or hit. Our back row did an awesome job stepping up at the end of the game.”
The first set was not good as NJC won 25-12.
The second set was a battle. The two South Sub-region teams were tied at 17-17 when Cordero hammered a kill and Andrea Tsvetanova had three points for a 21-17 lead. NJC came back to tie the set at 23-23, but Anuhea Kaohi had a kills and Macey Boggs served the final point to give WNCC the 25-23 win.
The third set saw NJC lead 7-3 and 12-7. WNCC tied the set at 14-14 on a Cordero kill and four Tsvetanova points. WNCC led 19-17 and later 23-19 on two Anabelle Gillen points. WNCC won the third 25-20 as Cordero got a kills and Tsvetanova had a point for the 2-1 lead.
Just like the previous two sets, the fourth set was a battle as well. NJC led 10-5 only to see Alex Hernandez get a kill and Gillen get four points to tie the set at 10-10. WNCC led 13-11 but saw NJC come back to grab a 21-18 lead. Tsvetanova came back with three points to put WNCC up 23-22, but NJC won the fourth 25-23 to force a fifth set.
The fifth set saw WNCC lead from start to finish. Cordero got the first point on a kill and then Tsvetanova had a point. Mariah Fukamoto pushed the lead to 10-4 with four points. WNCC closed out the win as Cordero got a kill and Tsvetanova had three points for the 15-7 win.
WNCC had three players with double figure kills. Cordero and Hernandez had a double-double. Cordero had 25 kills and 10 digs with four points while Hernandez had 12 kills, 10 digs, and three solo blocks.
Schaub added 10 kills while Kaohi had eight kills and Angel Nahinu had four.
Tsvetanova had a triple-double. She tallied 50 set assists with 19 points and 15 digs.
Fukamoto had 27 digs with seven points while Bogs had three points. Gillen had 10 digs and seven points with two aces.
The national tournament will be played April 15-17 in West Plains, Missouri. It was only the second time in school history that the Cougars won regionals when the North and South teams competed in one tournament. The other time came in 1988.