Winning the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference volleyball tournament over the weekend provided more than a few pre-Christmas gifts for the tabor College volleyball team.
First and foremost, the Bluejays are the KCAC tournament champions.
As such they’ve qualified a spot in the NAIA Volleyball Championship.
But not only do the Bluejays get in, they win the grand prize: The opening match will be on Tabor’s home court.
“We’re really excited,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said Monday. “This is first time we’ve ever hosted nationals here. Everybody’s kind of on a high, but also a little stressed out today. We’re super excited.”
The road to the KCAC championship began Thursday at the Hutchinson Sports Arena with a pool-play sweep of Sterling College (25-23, 25-24, 27-25) and a five-set win over Saint Mary (25-12, 25-15, 25-15).
“The two games on Thursday were just a different kind of volleyball,” Ratzlaff said. “It was what I would call a cadence kind of a volleyball game—more a scramble-type of game. Those are always very much fun to play, but it’s just harder to have a game plan for it. You have to kind of react.”
On Friday, Tabor squared off against Kansas Wesleyan, co-champion with Ottawa of the regular-season conference title, and a match with McPherson looming in the wings.
“Knowing we were top-two in the pool really helped coming out of Thursday evening,” Ratzlaff said. “We knew the Kansas Wesleyan game would probably determine who we would play first, Ottawa or Mac.”
The Bluejays did their part, defeating Kansas Wesleyan in a 31⁄2-hour marathon match, 25-18, 28-30, 19-25, 25-15, 25-13.
“That win was big for us, just because Kansas Wesleyan has been tied for first in the conference and they’ve been playing well,” Ratzlaff said. “To battle back in five was excruciating. We just played and played.”
As it turned out, Tabor started Saturday against McPherson, who had defeated Tabor twice during the regular season. This time, Tabor ruled the day with a 26-24, 25-22, 25-23 win.
“Obviously, we wanted to beat McPherson because they had beaten us earlier in the season,” Ratzlaff said. “That always creates a little bit of something in itself—but we really just tried to focus on ourselves.
“Our focus was ‘power under control,’” she added. “We were just going to stay at the same level and just play hard. I thought the girls played really well on Saturday overall.”
The momentum carried over into the championship game with Ottawa.
“The girls really wanted a banner in the (home) gym—and I said you’re not going to get a banner unless you win the conference tournament,” Ratzlaff said. “That was a huge motivator for them.”
Enough motivation to sweep the Braves, 25-16, 25-22, 25-20, and claim the spoils of victory.
“I’ll tell you what, I don’t think I’ve every enjoyed a game in my coaching career more than I enjoyed the Ottawa game,” Ratzlaff said. “It was because every single player did their job well. I don’t think anybody played above what they normally played, but literally everybody played their job well.
“Our blocking and defense in the back row, and our blocking in the front row, was incredible. We had more blocks in that match than probably the whole tournament.
“Then our back row defense wouldn’t let the ball drop,” she added. “That was a fun win for us. I think the girls got us to come full circle a little bit. We weren’t playing our best ball at mid-season, but now we got to experience what that really felt like.”
Coming—Tabor will host its first NAIA opening round game against Trinity Christian (27-12) from Illinois on Saturday.
“From now on, all the games are going to be clean, hard-hitting, fast-paced volleyball,” Ratzlaff said. “So winning like that against Ottawa was a big confidence boost—that we don’t need to do anything different, we just all need to do our jobs and do them well.”