ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERICA FAST
With a cry of “Play ball!” from the home team, the semifinals of the KCAC volleyball championship began Thursday night in Hillsboro.
The No. 1 seeded Tabor Bluejays hosted No. 4 seeded rival Bethel College in a match loaded with emotion and turmoil.
But, in a heart-breaking five games, the Bluejays fell to the Threshers, ending a season filled with hope and promise.
“You know, you put yourself out there to accomplish something huge and whenever you do that, you put yourself out there to experience great loss,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “The loss we feel hurts so bad, but I would not trade that for the world with having the possibility of also experiencing huge victory. It’s a chance you take.”
The Bluejays came out fired up, the gym reverberated with the cheering of enthusiastic fans, and it looked like it could be a quick night for the guests.
Bethel managed to put the ball down first, but the Bluejays fought back, earning a quick 6-3 lead.
Bethel’s Jill Rundquist managed to keep her team in the running, tying the score at 15 with her heavy hitting. But Tabor, not backing down, pulled away until Bethel was forced to call a timeout with the score 20-16 in Tabor’s favor. After that, the Bluejays never looked back, ending the game on top, 30-21.
Tabor’s momentum carried them into the second game, where they pulled ahead 5-1 before the Threshers called a timeout to regroup.
Bethel proceeded to work its way back into the game, until Tabor called a timeout with a slim 11-9 lead. The two teams continued to battle until Bethel finally gained momentum and won going away, 30-23.
In the third game, the Bluejays came out with fresh resolve and intensity. But mid-game they faltered, allowing the Threshers to overtake them. When it was beginning to look bleak for the Jays, they fought back and suddenly the score was tied at 23. The teams battled point-for-point until the Threshers outdistanced the home team, 30-27.
Ratzlaff led her team out into the hallway before the start of game four.
“We were definitely not playing well in the third game and something had to change,” she said later. “It wasn’t because they weren’t trying to be focused, it was just that feeling of, ‘Ah, what do we do? How do we get ourselves going?’ It seems like the more I can get their mind off the specifics, the better they play.”
When the Bluejays returned to the floor, they battled head-to-head with the Threshers, neither team able to gain an advantage. Tabor managed to pull away, and seemed ready to win the fourth easily, 28-21, but Bethel put on one last charge before falling, 30-26.
Game five began after another trip to the hallway for the Bluejays. The women returned to the gym making noise. But despite the Bluejays’ excitement, Bethel crept out to a 4-0 lead before Tabor answered with their own three-point run.
Led by Tesha Werth’s will to win, Tabor seemed determine to take the victory from Bethel. But the Bluejays committed three missed serves during the last five points of the game, folding, 12-15.
“We were ahead 11-10, we had the momentum, and I really believed, at that point, we had the game,” Ratzlaff said. “And then we had three serving errors in a row, and you just can’t win a rally ball game with three errors like that where the other team doesn’t have to do anything.”
For the night, both teams had 122 points, a tied match. It was just where the points fell that decided the winner.
Defensively, Werth led the Bluejays with 22 digs, 12 kills and two aces.
Offensively, Angela Kroeker led the Bluejays with 14 kills, 12 digs and four blocks. Laura Campbell had 12 kills, six blocks and two aces. Erin Loewen had 16 digs, 12 kills and three aces.
“A lot of people have said, ‘What a great season. You finished first in the conference and all that,'” said Ratzlaff. “And that will feel good. Once the heartbreak leaves, we’ll be able to feel good about it.”
Werth was a unanimous first-team KCAC pick and also was named “Player of the Year.” Sara Haggard also earned first-team all-conference. Kroeker and Campbell were second-team picks.