With a win over Saint Mary Thursday night in Hillsboro, the Tabor College volleyball team clinched its seventh conference championship during coach Amy Ratzlaff?s 11-year tenure.
The Bluejays turned a 6-6 tie into a 16-8 lead in the first game against the Spires on the way to a 12-point win. If the visitors were shell-shocked, they snapped out of it in time to take a 9-5 lead in the second game.
Tabor rallied to take the lead following a 9-9 tie. The Bluejays held onto the lead through 14-14, and a kill by Ashley Cohlmia halted Saint Mary?s charge.
After Cohlmia?s kill, Tabor opened up a 20-15 lead and eventually won the game during Andrea Batista?s serve.
The Spires made one last bid late in the third game, closing within 18-17 before the Bluejays rattled off seven of the final eight points.
For Tabor, it was both business as usual and the first-fruits of a year-long cultivation.
?Winning the championship this year is a goal we had set in November of 2008, about 2 minutes after we lost the semi-final match of the KCAC championship (tournament),? Ratzlaff said. ?I believe at that point we had won 12 matches in a row and felt like we were on a roll to win the tournament when we just had a down game in the semi-finals.?
Starting in 2001, Tabor won six consecutive conference championships, and has finished no lower than fourth during the intervening two years prior to this season?s title.
Ratzlaff said the squad does not expect to reach the national tournament on its reputation?but she did cite another intangible edge her team may count it its favor during the upcoming conference tournament.
?The team understands that we start at 0-0 recond now and we have to earn everything we get,? she said. ?The fact that we get to play at home is an unbelievable advantage. Our home crowd is unlike anything we see anywhere else.?
After beating Ottawa (25-23, 25-20, 32-30), the Bluejays regular season ended with a sweep of visiting University of St. Mary (25-13, 25-21, 25-18).
?It was good to get both of those matches in three wins,? Ratzlaff said. ?Against Ottawa one of the games in the match was tight and I was excited to see our women battle back in a tight match and play boldly. Our defense rose to a new level at the end of the game. That determination will be a key for us this week during tournament play.?
Ratzlaff said the tournament will feature strong play, and hopes the Bluejays will be up to the task.
?We have been sharpening some skills during the last week such as serving and blocking that will help us play a more solid game, but as we go into the tournament we hope to add a couple of new aspects to our game that other teams have not prepared for,? she said. ?We will also pull in a couple of brand new things to give us a little boost.?
Whatever additions Ratzlaff makes to Tabor?s schemes, the bread and butter of the Bluejays? attack will still be six-time ?setter of the week? Mandi Phillips and three-time ?hitter of the week? Tina Frick.
Phillips averaged 13.0 assists per game while Frick averaged 4.8 kills per game with an attack rating better than 53 percent. Frick has averaged 3.4 kills per game over the season, with strong support from Cohlmia (2.9 kills per game) and Gina Hullet (2.0). Three others have further balanced the attack with contributions of more than 100 total kills apiece so far: Jordan Crosson (106), Courtney Janzen (125) and Carley Kroeker (174).
Coming?The tournament schedule is as follows: Tabor hosted McPherson at 7 p.m. Tuesday; semifinals at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday; finals at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The winner of the conference tournament will receive a berth in the national tournament, which begins Nov. 21. The bulk of the national tournament will be conducted Dec. 2 through 5 in Sioux City, Iowa.