Omaha bound! Bluejays wrap up Region 4 tournament berth with win over McPherson College

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College volleyball team, 2005 co-champions of Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, punched their tickets Saturday night to the Region 4 tournament by beating McPherson in the championship match of the conference post-season tournament, 30-26, 26-30, 30-20, 30-16.

The Regional 4 tournament will begin Thursday in Omaha, Neb., and continue through Saturday.

“There’s nothing like playing at home, nothing like winning at home and nothing like taking a championship at home,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “The crowd was great and it was a perfect ending.”

In the first game, both teams looked for a weakness in their opponent and neither team led by more than three points.

That is, until Tabor opened a 24-19 lead late, prompting McPherson to call a timeout. It mattered little, however, as the Bluejays went on to the 30-26 win.

In Game 2, McPherson battled back after Tabor jumped to a 10-5 lead. An 11-6 Bulldog run brought the visitors even at 16 and the score stayed tight all the way to 22-all. But a 5-0 McPherson surge put the visitors on top for good as they even the match with a 30-26 win.

“We didn’t do badly, but we didn’t do anything great (in Game 2),” Ratzlaff said. “We had a lot of hitting errors.”

Protecting its home turf, Tabor answered the Bulldog challenge with a spirited and effective attack in Game 3.

The Bluejays raced to a 13-3 lead and were never threatened. They led by as much as 28-15 before settling for the 30-20 win.

Ratzlaff said her players realized the crux of their problems in Game 2 were on their own side of the net.

“Our girls just got fired up mad that we allowed ourselves to play that way,” she said. “I think we let down some in the second game and (McPherson) started playing offense and that made us scramble a little bit more. We didn’t play sharp, we didn’t pass sharp and we didn’t hit sharp.

“Once we made the necessary adjustments, we were all right and that comes down to determination to get the job done and not let yourself make any errors.”

Leading 2-1, the Bluejays smelled victory and the Bulldogs could do little to turn the momentum. Tabor blitzed McPherson 30-16 in the final game after racing to a 14-3 lead.

“I think McPherson kind of got flustered, but they’re a great ball club,” Ratzlaff said. “Their improvement from the first of the season to the end of the season is phenomenal.”

Staci Whitcomb, who was feted as KCAC Player-of-the-Year after the match, put down an incredible 21 kills on only 38 attacks, a percentage of .474.

As a team, Tabor had 70 kills. Jill Hein added 12 and Lindsey Vogts and Kelsi Suderman each added 11. Tabor’s team percentage was .355.

Anne Gunden, meanwhile, dished out 46 assists while Audrey Schellenberg added 14.

The defensive effort was just as impressive. Tabor blocked 27 shots; Lindsey Vogts led with nine and Hein added five.

“Our blocking tonight was phenomenal,” Ratzlaff said. “I felt like we stepped up our blocking a whole notch, and that was fun to see.”

Tabor had 68 digs, led by Whitcomb with 14 and Hein and Ashley Malcolm with 11.

“The girls have definitely started a new season and are determined to be playing ball at this time in the season,” Ratzlaff said. “And we need to be (determined) because our matches are going to get a lot tougher than anything we’ve seen this year.”

With the victory, Tabor improved to 22-10 as the Bluejays look to Omaha.

Semifinals vs. Kansas Wesleyan- Second-seeded Tabor advanced to the KCAC championship match with a 30-26, 30-25, 30-19 sweep of third-seeded Kansas Wesleyan Thursday night in Hillsboro.

“Our girls came ready to play but I don’t think we played as well as we can,” coach Amy Ratzlaff. “We played solid, but I wouldn’t say it was of our best of the year.”

The Bluejays put down 36 kills in the match. Kelsi Suderman led with eight, Staci Whitcomb added seven and Jill Hein six.

“That’s a good sign when kills are spread between several players,” Ratzlaff said. “All the hitters are getting the job done. When girls get the opportunity to touch the ball, they do positive things with it.”

Tabor’s kill percentage was an efficient .290.

The Bluejays fell behind 15-10 in the opening game before making adjustments.

“Kansas Wesleyan served a lot tougher at us than they had previously,” Ratzlaff said. “Once we started passing those balls in the first game, we were fine.

“We know that’s a priority for us because we have an effective offense,” she added. “If we’re passing the ball, we get to use that offense; if we aren’t, we don’t get to use our offense.”

After capturing the first two games, Wesleyan looked like a defeated team, falling behind 19-7 in Game 3.

Ratzlaff said she was pleased her squad didn’t let down.

“That’s good to see and it’s nice we didn’t mess around being overconfident,” she said. “We’ve learned it isn’t over until it’s over, so we need to keep taking care of business as long as we can.”

Tabor’s front line blocked 17 hits; Hein led with five and both Whitcomb and Lindsey Vogts added four.

“Our blocking continues to be one of our best forces out there,” she said. “Lindsey and Jill did a great job out of the middle for us, and I think that’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of our team.

“I’m blessed with two incredible blockers and I know I’m lucky in that aspect.”

Anne Gunden was responsible for 24 assists while Audrey Schellenberg added 10.

“Even at this late point in our season, I still see us growing as a team,” Ratzlaff said.

Coming-Tabor, seeded No. 4, will open play at the Region 4 tournament against No. 5 Park University (24-12) at 3 p.m., Thursday. If the Bluejays win, they will play in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday.

Finals are 1 p.m., Saturday.

“Regionals this year have been realigned,” Ratzlaff said. “We’re at the place this year that if we play good solid volleyball in Omaha, we can make an impact in regionals.

“It used to be we had to step up to another level-and we’re going to have to step it up. But if we do that, I think we can have an impact.”

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