ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College volleyball team began its quest for a fifth straight Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference title Thursday with a three-game sweep of McPherson College in Hillsboro, 30-21, 30-23, 30-28.
“I’m thankful I saw us take a step forward in this match compared to what we did over the last weekend (College of the Ozarks Tournament),” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “That’s really all I ask for is that we improve in every match, and I think we did that tonight.”
Playing before a huge crowd in a sweltering Tabor gymnasium, the Bluejays fell behind 12-8 in the first game before rallying to win, 30-21.
The Bluejays registered 14 kills in the opener in 26 attacks. Defensively, they had 11 digs and five blocks.
In Game 2, the teams played evenly until the Bluejays pulled away late for the 30-23 win.
Tabor had 19 kills in 50 attacks and came up with 28 digs.
Facing elimination, McPherson rallied in Game 3, tying the score as late as 27-all before the Bluejays nailed down the 30-28 win.
“We let them go on a couple of scoring runs in the third game; anytime you let a team score more than three straight points at the college level, you know you’ve got your work cut out for you,” Ratzlaff said.
“We had more hitting errors in the last game and we also had three blocking errors in that game and we typically don’t have those.”
All-KCAC outside hitter Staci Whitcomb led the Bluejays with 13 kills in the match with nine digs.
Traci Neufeld led the Bluejays with 10 digs while Anne Gunden, Johannah Love and Jill Hein each contributed seven.
Hein recorded four solo blocks and five assisted blocks while Ashley McKillip and Lindsey Vogts both added three solos and three assists.
The Bluejays continued to employ a 6-2 offense Thursday after years of running a 5-1.
“Initially the change came because we want more hitters on the court at once,” Ratzlaff said. “We have the hitting personnel to do it, so it just make sense.
“Against McPherson it worked really good, although each rotation has its own bugs-but we don’t really have weak spots.”
“(With the new offense) to have all those arms in front of you, I think our blocking will benefit,” Ratzlaff said. “We’re still adjusting, but it looks good.”
Gunden also dished out 20 assists while freshman Audrey Shellenberg added 19 assists.
“Audrey has a great work ethic,” Ratzlaff said. “I’ve been blessed with two setters who work very hard to get the job done.”
Ratzlaff praised Tabor’s fan base.
“The crowd was awesome,” she said. “They can take credit for half of our wins if they want to. They were phenomenal.
“You can see their impact on our defense because when the crowd goes crazy I think our defense speeds up,” she added. “What more could you ask for from a crowd?”
Although Ratzlaff was pleased with the win, she said the Bluejays are far from being in late-season form.
“We still need to work on transitioning to defense, although we were a lot better in this match than we were in Missouri,” she said. “We also have to figure out our offensive plays. When you add that third hitter, you need to go through what our plays are and what our strengths are.
“I felt like we served better against McPherson, but that’s still something we’ll continue to make a priority.”
The win was Tabor’s first of the season after five losses in Missouri. But it put Tabor atop the KCAC standings at 1-0.
“McPherson played a great match, but that’s typical of the KCAC-you’re never quite sure where the great matches are going to come from,” Ratzlaff said.
“I’m always glad to get a conference win and keep improving.”
Coming-Tabor faces a busy week. They were to play host Saint Mary yesterday (Sept. 13) before traveling to Sterling on Thursday and then participating in a Bethel College tournament Friday.