Bluejay volleyball season ends in KCAC semifinals loss

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Some of the lessons college sports teach athletes aren’t pleasant.

The Tabor College volleyball team learned a hard lesson Thursday, losing its semifinals match in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference post-season tournament to Bethel College in Hillsboro in five games, 26-30, 30-24, 30-21, 25-30, 12-15.

“It was a heart-breaker,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “But I told the women before the game, when you decide you’re going to be a good team, you put yourself on a pedestal, and you’re either going to have an enormous victory or a devastating loss.

“We had our devastating loss, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “I’d much rather be fired up mad or incredibly excited than be mediocre.

“It hurts and it’s hard, but that also means we had put ourselves in a position to have some good things happen and I just have to remember that.”

Bethel grabbed the opening game on the strength of a 7-1 run that transformed a 17-14 Bluejay lead into a 21-18 Thresher advantage.

Tabor tied the score at 23, but Bethel captured seven of the next 10 points for the win.

Tabor bounced back in Game 2 behind the strong serving of Jill Hein that carried Tabor from an 8-5 deficit to a 14-8 lead.

The Bluejays led by as much as eight, 26-18, before settling for the 30-24 win.

Game 3 saw Tabor break on top 9-4 after a 4-4 tie, once again fueled by Hein’s serving.

Tabor lead by as much as 10, 27-17, and took a 2-1 lead in the match with the 30-24 win.

“I think we were playing really good ball, and we didn’t have many hitting errors in the first three games,” Ratzlaff said. “We did a lot of things right.”

Playing to a boisterous Bluejay hometown crowd, Tabor looked to seal the deal and earn a berth in the championship match against Ottawa on Saturday, but Bethel wasn’t ready to fold.

Instead, the Threshers built a 191-3 lead before Staci Whitcomb sparked a Bluejay rally.

“Staci kept us in Game 4,” Ratzlaff said. “She had a run of several kills in a row that were really huge for us.”

The game was tied at 20, but a 5-0 streak gave Bethel enough momentum to win, 30-25.

“I thought when we were tied at 20, the game could have gone either way,” Ratzlaff said. “But we had a few errors and started not passing quite as well, and Bethel just took that game.

“Bethel stepped up its game a notch with their offense, and it took us a little bit to recover and we had to fight our way from behind,” she added. “We didn’t hold our heads down when they tied us at 2 games each. I know the women wanted to win and we were definitely ready to fight for that last game.”

Tied at two games each, each team’s post-season life hinged on who could get to 15 points first.

Falling behind early by four points, Tabor battled back and caught the Threshers at 9.

But Bethel scored the next three points and the Bluejays weren’t able to overcome the deficit, eventually falling 12-15.

“The fifth game could have gone either way and both teams really fought hard,” Ratzlaff said. “I was proud of my women in the way they fought for the win point for point.

“That’s encouraging to know they gave it a really good run all the way to the end.”

Ratzlaff said Tabor played well, but just not well enough.

“Overall, both teams played well,” she said. “But Bethel played better than we saw them play all season.”

“Defensively, I thought we had several girls who put forth a great effort during the night,” Ratzlaff said. “Jill, Jo (Love) and Traci (Neufeld) all played really good defense.”

For the match, Whitcomb had 18 kills and three service aces.

Loewen had 12 kills, Hein had nine kills and three service aces and Lindsey Vogts added eight kills.

With the loss, Tabor’s season ends with an overall record of 19-12 and a 15-3 conference record that earned them their fourth straight regular-season title.

“After a week or two, I’m sure we’ll look back and see how special it was to have won four in a row,” Ratzlaff said. “I told the team I was disappointed in the loss, but I’m heartbroken about not being able to be with this particular team again.”

Prospects are bright for Tabor, though, with Loewen being the only senior on this year’s roster.

“That’s where the heart break lies,” Ratzlaff said. “I think the majority of the team is looking forward to the sweet revenge nine months later, but Erin won’t get to be a part of that.

“But we talked about the fact that we praise the Lord in win or loss, and we know the loss somewhere will come back and bless Erin in some way-and she knows that.”

Ratzlaff said the future of Bluejay volleyball is bright, but hopes to further strengthen the team through recruiting.

“We really need another setter who would also be a good defender,” she said. “I try to keep us three deep in each position, and losing Erin means I’ll probably bring in another outside (hitter).

“We have a strong hold on next year with what we have coming back. We just need to fill in a couple of gaps and we’ll be all right.”

All-Conference picks- KCAC co-champion Tabor is well represented on this year’s all-conference team, grabbing four spots on the prestigious list.

Leading the way is sophomore outside hitter Staci Whitcomb, who was a unanimous first-team selection. Joining Whitcomb on the first team is junior setter Anne Gunden.

Picked for honorable mention is senior outside hitter Erin Loewen and junior middle hitter Jill Hein.

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