Bluejay volleyball team endures early exit at Omaha

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Free Press

Hoping to parlay a strong Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference post-season experience into a good showing at the Region IV Tournament in Omaha, Neb., the Tabor College volleyball team headed into its matchup with Park University on Thursday afternoon with high expectations.

Apparently, momentum was fleeting as Tabor lost in three games, 30-22, 30-24, 30-28.

“It’s just disappointing because we didn’t play our game in Omaha, which makes it harder to lose,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “We wanted to go out and play the way we have all season and that didn’t happen.”

Ratzlaff said Tabor’s lack of offensive execution set off a chain of events that kept Tabor from winning the match.

“Our offense wasn’t running smoothly, and when you play a good team, they’re going to hit the ball at you-which is exactly what happened,” Ratzlaff said.

“That made our defense scramble more than we’d like to, and it also made our blocking less effective because they were hitting off free balls. That gave them the opportunity to hit off a variety of sets.

“When that happens, it’s really hard as a blocker to know which way to go.”

Tabor blocked only 15 hits in three games. Jill Hein recorded seven of them.

“Jill played a really great game,” Ratzlaff said of her senior All-KCAC middle hitter. “I felt she was doing everything she could to keep us in the match, both defensively and offensively.”

Tabor recorded 57 digs, led by Anne Gunden with 13. Hein added 12 and Staci Whitcomb 11.

Tabor’s attack percentage was what you might expect with a struggling offense: .241 percent.

The Bluejays put down 38 kills in 116 attacks hits.

Kelsi Suderman and Lindsey Vogts each had eight kills, Hein added seven and Whitcomb six.

Hein had a kill percentage of .636, Vogts of .421 and Whitcomb of .261.

Ratzlaff said Whitcomb’s low total was a result of good preparation by the opponent.

“Staci wasn’t as effective, but anytime a new team is going to scout us or call coaches about us, Staci is the first name you’ll hear,” she said. “It’s a compliment to Staci really, but Park was definitely prepared for her.”

Senior All-KCAC setter Anne Gunden finished with 23 assists in three games while freshman Audrey Schellenberg added nine.

“I don’t think the women were satisfied just being here this time, and that’s the first time I’ve felt that way,” Ratzlaff said. “We just have to get to regionals more and more so we expect to win more and more.

“Had we not played to about 60 percent of our potential, I think we could have beaten Park,” she added. “We need to realize we’re a great team and that we can make a difference.

“If we would have played the way we played the past two weeks, we’d have had a huge impact at Omaha-but we didn’t.”

With the loss, Tabor ended the 2005 season with a 22-11 record, which included a 17-1 mark and co-championship in the KCAC. It was the fifth straight time the Bluejays have finished at the top.

“After the hurt of losing ends, we’ll start remembering all the good things about this season,” Ratzlaff said. “There is always something more to better yourself when you have a competitive spirit, and we’re not near the peak of what this program can do.

“That’s not because we’re selfish, but we know we can be better and we want to be able to play at the top of our game,” she said. “If we would have played as hard as we could and still lost at regionals that’s one thing, but I think this leaves just enough hunger in the women remaining that they’ve already set goals for next season.”

Gone next season will be four seniors: Jill Hein, Anne Gunden, Shannon Kroeker and Johannah Love. Ratzlaff credited them with continuing the success Tabor has become accustomed to.

“These seniors were really committed to this program,” she said. “They’re the glue that held this program together.

“I can’t imagine playing without them next year because they know what Tabor volleyball is.”

Return next fall will be a core of six talented seniors, including Whitcomb, the KCAC Player-of-the-Year, and All-KCAC hitter Lindsey Vogts.

“We definitely have the heart of a championship team coming back next year,” Ratzlaff said. “I believe if God wants us to be successful, he’ll bring in the right people. We just need to stay open to who that might be and be ready to train them when they come in.

“These girls are fighters, so any kind of turnover that happens, they take in stride,” she added.

“It’ll be a fun group of women next season to work with who have a lot of talent.”

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