Jays win respect at NAIA Championships

Tabor College competing against Morningside College during the third and final pool-play match at the NAIA Championships. From the top:

• Kendra Kroeker, Kim Hockley and Amy Horner prepare to receive serve.

• Horner stretches to return volley.

• Coach Amy Ratzlaff offers encouragement to her team.

Photos by Tim Tushla

Tabor College returned home from the NAIA Volleyball National Cham­pionships with an 0-3 record in pool play, but that doesn’t mean the team didn’t come home without a victory.

“I was so pleased with the team and how hard they fought,” coach Amy Ratzlaff said. “Last year, we went to the tournament, was glad to be there and were trying to get our bearings a little bit.

“We kind of established ourselves as a team that fought hard and had good chemistry,” she added. “This year, going in we just wanted to be that same team.

“We don’t want to be the team that feels entitled to be there, we want to be grateful to be there and enjoy every moment. I feel like we pulled off that reputation there again.”

The Bluejays opened play Nov. 28 against Grand View University and lost the match in four (17-25, 25-22, 23-25, 23-25). The following day produce a similar result, with Columbia College winning in four sets (21-25, 21-25, 25-22, 23-25).

Facing Morningside on Thursday, the Bluejay were swept in three sets (22-25, 13-25, 20-25).

“Morningside plays in the (Great Plains Athletic Conference), so their ranking probably doesn’t reflect what they probably should have been ranked,” Ratzlaff said. “Morningside plays teams that are top-five in the nation during their conference play.

“Second, they probably have the most solid system for volleyball,” she added. “They have some really good players and Morningside played well together,” she added. “That’s our strength, so when you meet a team like that, it’s just harder to defeat them.”

Ratzlaff said even though the Bluejays played only one match per day, the physical toll was noticeable by the end of the week.

“We were pretty beat up, but I think every team was,” she said. “You look at it and it’s only one match a day, but those matches are just hard -fought matches. Our girls definitely feel it by the end.”

Contributing to the physical challenge was the playing surface—a hardwood floor covering an ice hockey rink.

“The surface is so much harder that even our defensive girls, their bodies were really hurting because of the floor,” Ratzlaff said. “But it was the same for everybody else, too.”

The Bluejay coach said she’ll remember this 2017 team because it played so well together.

“We had seven seniors playing, and sometimes that can actually be hard,” Ratzlaff said. “Never ever once did that become an issue. They pretty much fought for each other.

“In different matches we saw so many different people having incredible games. You don’t always get that off of a team.

“I really feel like there was a lot of give and take on this team, and they were a very cohesive group. They were in it for the good of everybody. That was one of the most special parts of our team.”

Ratzlaff said many coaches complimented her team for its passionate play and selfless work ethic.

“I think it’s so foreign to some of them who are playing with athletes who are all business,” Ratz­laff said. “It is amazing how the chemistry is not there on the top teams—because it doesn’t need to be. They are skilled enough, big enough and powerful enough without it.

“I regularly get coaches coming to me and saying, ‘If I could get my team to play with the heart that your team has, we’d win the national championship.’ We got that last year, but we also got it this year.

“To be recognized for that two years in a row, it’s like become a tradition of Tabor volleyball at the national level. I would want nothing else than for that be the tradition of this program.”

The Bluejays close the book on 2017 season with a 28-12 record and a 17-5 mark in the KCAC, good for third place.

Ratzlaff will say farewell to seniors Ali Jost, Amy Horner, Brooke Halloway, Megan Voth, Kim Hockley, Haley Falk and Sydney Pietz.