Historic run ends
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The #1 Westmont volleyball team entered the NAIA National Tournament with a target on its back as the top seed and the only remaining undefeated team. The Warriors fought admirably throughout, but ultimately fell just short of winning the program’s first National Championship, losing in the quarterfinals to #7 Park University (MO.) in four sets (24-26, 25-20, 22-25, 18-25).
The tournament started off as planned for Westmont, overcoming a sluggish first set to sweep Indiana University Kokomo (29-27, 25-13, 25-17). Then the Warriors hit their first speed bump of the season - a five set loss to defending National Champion and #17 Columbia College (MO.) by scores of 25-27, 21-25, 25-21, 25-17, 9-15. Westmont lost the first two sets before battling back to force a fifth and deciding set, but wound up losing its first match of the season.
“We knew coming up against the defending champions it would be a tough match, but one we were willing to fight for,” said sophomore middle blocker Emma Harrah. “The loss was unanticipated, but also something I believe we needed in order to have the fire and drive to succeed in our further matches. It was disappointing, but didn’t slow us down one bit.”
The loss set up a must-win match against #16 Indiana Wesleyan University. The winner would advance to the Round of 16 as the number two seed out of Pool A, while the loser would be eliminated.
The Warriors responded in a big way, winning in four sets (28-30, 25-18, 25-20, 25-22) and advancing out of pool play. The attacking trio of Jessica McCann, Taylor Beckman and Libby Dahlberg recorded 15, 14 and 13 kills respectively. Alexa Nestlerode had 34 assists, while Kami Troesh tallied 26 digs.
Westmont’s reward for the win - a round of 16 matchup against #2 Viterbo University (Wis.), winners of Pool B.
The Warriors played against the #2 in the NAIA a little sooner than they would have hoped for, but this did not affect them, as the Warriors swept the V-Hawks in straight sets (25-22, 25-10, 26-24). Beckman was the star for Westmont, leading the team in kills (14) and digs (20). Amy Buffham dished out 22 assists in the win.
Westmont did not have long to celebrate the win, as the Warriors had to turn around just five hours later for their quarterfinal matchup with the Pirates of Park University (MO.). This match proved to be the end of Westmont’s historical season.
“Everyone has worked so hard and fought through injuries for the success of the team and I couldn’t be more proud of everyone,” said junior middle blocker Mila Maricic.
“Although it was a sad moment (losing in the quarterfinals), it was extremely special to be a part of because I could see in our faces how proud we were of each other and how far we had come,” added Maricic. “The memories made were unlike any other season of volleyball I had experienced. This group was a special one, and I will cherish the moments for years and years to come.”
Going into the NAIA National Tournament, Westmont Head Coach Patti Cook said, “This season has been a blast. We have had a great time with each other and built some wonderful memories.”
While that final match v. Park might not have been the “blast” the rest of the season had been up to that point, this Westmont volleyball team still made history and will be remembered forever by the Warriors’ community.