After a historic 4 set match win over Northland International University, Coach Spooner told the team to get ready to play for either 5th or 7th place in less than an hour. 10 minutes later a jubilant Coach gave the team an more satisfying update.
“When Brian the AD at Faith told me we were the 2nd seed out of our pool and playing Ozark Christian for 3rd place I was stunned. I knew beating Northland was critical but I didn’t realize how significant it was to beat them in 4 sets and even though we had lost to Faith the day before, since it went to a 5th set we had more sets wins overall than either Faith or Northland. That was our goal for the weekend; to be in the final four.”
Friday the Tigers opened the Spikefest Tournament going against the host Faith Eagles. It ended up being a 5 set battle with the Tigers losing 15-12 in the 5th set. “Lanny Nihart is one of the most respected coaches in the NCCAA and his teams always are known for their defense and scrappy play. But we just didn’t have an answer for their middle hitter, Julia Bray.” Coach Spooner said after the match.
After losing the first set 23-25, the Tigers found some offensive consistency and won the second set 25-22. The Eagles came right back again behind the offense power of Bray matching the 2nd set score 25-22. A critical out of rotation call put Faith at set point. “I tried to point out the error in the call but the official didn’t see it at the time. That was a major call putting us down 24-22 but you have to play through it. After that set loss I needed to make sure of our rotation so again I pointed out the error and this time the official apologized and said he made a mistake. I respected his integrity and told the team the same. It was only last year I made a mistake possibly costing us a win against Northland so I know nothing is ever perfect.” Coach Spooner said. The Tigers rallied in the 4th behind some aggressive serving and better defense winning 25-22. “As we mature we will learn to take that 4th set aggression and confidence right away into a 5th set.” Coach Spooner said later.
Indeed in the 5th set the Tigers found themselves down early and deep 12-7, but came back behind some front row power of their own in Senior Joee Spooner and Jr. Naomi Kemper. Yet Bray was simply too much and the Eagles prevailed 15-12. “I was very proud of the team for their attitude staying focused after some very questionable calls. However Faith did beat us and we learned a lot about inner character and the value of team.” Coach Spooner noted with encouragement after the match.
Offensive balanced attack will be key this year for the Tigers with Naomi Kemper firing 19 kills, Joee Spooner and Nichole Galbicsek each with 16 for a combined 60 kills. Naomi also had 8 aces along with Joee’s 4. Joee also had 5 solo blocks and 3 assist blocks. Freshman Aubree Domsic; (East Kentwood HS) setting only in her 4th match had 36 assists. Jessica Ryan led the team in digs with 28.
The second match of the day pitted the Tigers against one of the top 5 teams in the nation; Grace University. Yet the Tigers after losing badly in the first set 25-9, started to come together and play with more confidence and aggression. Losing the 2nd set by only 2, 25-23 and then the 3rd 25-18 showed the Tigers something about themselves. “Every match we play we gain more team cohesion and confidence. We really need to learn how to play within ourselves consistently.” Coach Spooner said afterwards.
Saturday morning found the Tigers playing their final pool play against nemesis Northland International University. “Honestly, we weren’t even thinking about seeding, it was just Northland. We haven’t beaten them since 1995 and last year we came so close almost every time.” Coach Spooner said.
After getting off to a rough start down early in the first set the Tigers made it a more respectable score losing 25-17. But in the second set a more confident Tiger squad found some leadership behind their returning players and significantly reduced mistakes to win 25-21. In the 3rd set the Tigers started strong going up 14-6. But relaxed intensity allowed Northland to make a run and suddenly it was a precarious 21-19 lead for the Tigers. Northland called timeout and Coach Spooner believed this would be the turning point in the set indeed maybe even for the season. “I know it sounds melodramatic but I wanted the team to know how important this was for mature growth as a team. Coach Dave Herron is a great coach, I knew he’d be able to motivate his young team. We have to learn to shut the door when you have a chance to put a team away and we’ve struggled with that over the years. It’s time for our older players to step up.”
The Tigers indeed responded and behind aggressive serving and defense won 25-23. “After that level of maturing the next is keeping that confidence and finish, not by thinking about winning the match but competing to win every point. Volleyball is such a momentum sport and competing to win every point is the best way to keep it.” Coach Spooner told the team after that 3rd set win.” And they did winning 25-20 beating Northland for the first time in 16 years.” Coach Spooner said afterwards, “I was very proud of the leadership provided by our older players. I think they were just tired of always losing close matches and played with great confidence. Yet it was still our freshman Aubree Domsic who played her best match of the year to date as setter. This was a great total team effort learning to play within ourselves, minimizing mistakes while still being aggressive.”
Naomi and Joee both had 13 kills each with Nichole getting 11. Naomi 6 aces along with Joee’s 4 and Nichole with 3 was a significant factor in the match. Naomi also led the team in digs with 28 and Joee dominated the net with 6 solo blocks and 3 assists. Aubree again showed her potential and continued growth as a setter with 28 assists.
For 3rd place the Tigers found themselves facing last years NCCAA Div. 11 National runner-ups, Ozark Christian. “Last year Ozark didn’t lose to a single NCCAA Div. II Team all year until the final match of Nationals. To get a chance to play them early this year will help us see what we need to be working on getting to that next level.” Perhaps still thinking about the Northland match the Tigers came out losing 25-6 in the first set but rallied a bit losing the second and third sets 25-15; 25-10. “I’m quite sure we will see them again later in the year, since they are hosting the ACCA Nationals. The score doesn’t reflect how hard we did play nevertheless we have much to work on this next week in practice.” Coach Spooner said afterwards.
The Tigers have the week to prepare for their next contest at NAIA powerhouse Aquinas College this Saturday.