Volleyball makes 3-peat sweet with tourney title

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor volleyball team made its three-peat all the sweeter Saturday by defeating Kansas Wesleyan in the championship match of the KCAC tournament-the one achievement that eluded it the previous two seasons.

With the win, the Bluejays earned a trip to Omaha, Neb., to represent the KCAC in the Region IV tournament this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Championship match-It appeared the Bluejays began the night a bit overzealous, but in the end they wrapped up the title against second-seeded KWU in four games, 26-30, 30-21, 30-26, 30-16.

“We made a lot of errors in the first game out of nerves,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “We hit some balls in places we normally wouldn’t, we missed some serves that aren’t typical of us, and we were just a little flustered.

“We’ve wanted to be tournament champions along with conference champions since we lost the last game last year,” she said. “The anticipation of waiting until 7 o’clock on a Saturday to play a game that you’ve been waiting for, for a whole year, just made us a little over anxious.”

In Game 1, Tabor held the lead just three times, each by a single point. The last Bluejay lead was 20-19, but the Coyotes surged ahead 28-24 and took the first game 30-26.

In Game 2, the Bluejays looked like conference champions that weren’t about to let a home-court match slip through their fingers.

With Wesleyan leading 4-3, the Bluejays ran off eight straight points to grab control of the game. Tabor, behind an inspired defensive effort, eventually built a 20-10 lead before winning, 30-21.

“Our back-row defense, Carmen (Hein) and Jill (Hein), did a good job,” Ratzlaff said. “Carmen has been a mainstay for us, it seems, forever.

“Her excitement just carries us a long way.”

Game 3 found the Bluejays seemingly in control from the outset, building a 16-10 lead.

But the Coyotes didn’t come in as the second seed because they choked under pressure.

Wesleyan battled back to tie the game at 25, but the Bluejays scored five of the next six points to take a 2-1 lead in the match with a 30-26 win.

With momentum and a frenzied crowd in their favor, Tabor blasted the Coyotes in Game 4.

Tied at 4-4, the Bluejays scored 19 of the next 25 points to surge ahead 23-10, their biggest lead of the match.

Tabor brought home the tournament championship in Game 4 by a score of 30-16.

Sara McAllister again “set” the table for the Bluejay offense, registering 54 assists.

Primary beneficiaries were Staci Whitcomb (16 kills), Angela Kroeker (14 kills) and Rachelle Regier (10 kills).

The Bluejays, after their initial jitters, finished the match with just seven service errors in 116 attempts. They recorded four aces with Jo Love contributing three.

Defensively, the Bluejays were anchored by their front line, which recorded 30 blocks in the match.

Laura Campbell led with 11 blocks and Shannon Kroeker added eight.

Whitcomb went low for 18 digs to lead the team and Carmen Hein added 17.

“Staci is capable of playing defense that way all the time,” Ratzlaff said. “Staci turned herself into a player instead of just a spectator.

“She made some phenomenal plays that just got everyone going.”

With the win, the Bluejays raised their record to 20-12 on the season, winning 10 of their last 12 matches.

Before the match, Ratzlaff said she tried to inspire her troops to reach for the stars.

“I told the women: ‘We’re going to live boldly. You want to be in this position. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, so you might as well go out and enjoy it and take advantage of the opportunity.’ That’s just what they did.”

Having achieved the goal of winning the regular-season and tournament titles, Ratzlaff reflected on a season that is still unfinished.

“The fact these seniors could realize goals they set will be with them the rest of their lives,” she said. “Hopefully, these underclassmen will know what it takes to do this again, and that establishes tradition.”

Semifinals match-Tabor earned its berth in the title match Thursday with a four-game, home-court defeat of Ottawa, 31-33, 30-26, 30-26, 30-23.

“Ottawa played a good match,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “They came out hitting the ball and our blockers weren’t ready for it.

“We realized our defensive blocking was the one thing that was missing the first game,” she added. “After the women put that in the second game, it turned it around.”

Ottawa came out strong in Game 1 after Tabor took an early 13-9 lead. The Braves fought back to grab their biggest lead of the match, 21-18.

The Bluejays won the next point and the teams were never separated by more than two points the rest of the way.

The Bluejays fought off four game points before finally succumbing, 31-33.

“I don’t think we were nervous. We started out in a little bit of a blocking lull,” Ratzlaff said. “When that happens, it makes it look like our defense isn’t playing because we don’t know where to pick to play.”

The Braves’ momentum carried into Game 2 as they built a four-point leads on several occasions, the last one at 10-6.

But the Bluejays scored five of the next six points and tied the match at 11. Tabor eventually scored a 30-26 win to tie the match.

“Our middle blockers made a decision to pick up their game the second game, and that made all the difference in the world,” Ratzlaff said.

“We had a few more hitting errors in the second game, but we knew that wasn’t typical of us so we thought that would go away, and it did.”

Staci Whitcomb converted 53 attacks into 17 kills and had 16 digs, while Angela Kroeker had 16 kills, 23 digs (tops on the team), and three blocks.

Laura Campbell led the team with six blocks while Rachelle Regier recorded five blocks and 14 kills.

As a team, the Bluejays were credited with 68 kills in the match.

Sara McAllister had an outstanding game with 56 set assists.

Tabor record six service aces- McAllister led with three-in 120 attempts, and committed just six errors.

Carmen Hein received 36 serves and had just two errors.

“Angela Kroeker played a great defensive game,” Ratzlaff said. “Sara (McAllister) just played an awesome game. That ball was right where we wanted it and our hitting ran smoothly.

Ratzlaff said Campbell’s play was also stellar.

“Laura really picked up her game tonight, both hitting and blocking,” she said. “That was good to see.”

Game 3 boiled down to a battle of serving. Jo Love sparked the Bluejays with adept serves while Ottawa struggled, losing several key points on bad serves.

Once the Bluejays took a 2-1 lead, the crowd supplied the energy for the Jays to expand the lead to 22-14.

“I don’t think the crowd actually understands how much these women appreciate their support,” Ratzlaff said. “It’s huge.

“Even at the end of the fourth game, when our crowd got going, it almost relaxes me and makes the women play harder,” she added. “I don’t feel like I have to do that much because I feel like I have a whole community helping me motivate them and keep them going.”

The Bluejays were motivated and finished the match with a 30-23 win to advance to Saturday’s title tilt with Kansas Wesleyan.

Coming-Tabor, seeded 6th, will open regional play Thursday against Doane College of Nebraska, who comes into the tournament as the number three seed, with game time set for 8:00.

“This will be another level of play,” Ratzlaff said. “Our motivating factor will be to represent our conference well, and represent our hometown well.

“I hope we’ll take a part of Tabor with us and really represent who we are.”‘

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