Fueled by a supportive home crowd and powered by Amy Horner, its conference player of the year, the Tabor College volleyball team went the five-set max before defeating Trinity Christian College, 3-2, in the opening round of the NAIA Volleyball Championship Saturday afternoon at Hillsboro.
Hosting an opening round game for the first time in school history, the Bluejays got off to a slow start, losing the opening set to the Trolls in lopsided fashion, 25-14.
“I think we just decided we didn’t want it to be our last game, and just came together,” Horner said about the team’s response. “I think the first set we were playing timid and we knew that could be the end.
“But we decided it would not be the end without a fight. We just turned it on and played our game.”
The Bluejays returned to the court for Set 2 with a determined demeanor.
The two teams battled hit for hit and block for block, with neither squad staking a lead of more than two points before Trinity went up 14-11.
Tabor trailed by four points at 16-20 before generating a four-point rally to tie the game at 20. Following a Trinity timeout, Tabor found itself with its back against the wall at 23-24. But back-to-back kills by Horner vaulted Tabor into the lead at 25-24.
Trinity ended the set on an attack error for a 26-24 Bluejay win.
In Set 3, the two teams again went back and fourth before a Kim Hockley kill tied the game at 9. Haley Falk followed with an ace serve to put the Bluejays ahead, 10-9. Tabor never trailed again on the way to a 25-23 win that ended with a Sydney Peitz kill.
In position to end the match with one more win, Tabor more or less maintained a one-point lead until the Trolls tied the set at 11-11. Trinity then inched ahead until the Trolls led by a 19-13 score. The Bluejays failed to rally and lost the set, 19-25.
Tied at two sets apiece, the two teams prepared for the tie-breaking Set 5. Throughout the afternoon, the home crowd grew larger and more raucous in support of their beloved Bluejays.
And it made a difference.
If the Bluejays were tentative in the opening set, they were a team of domination in the final one. Tabor started with 5-0 run behind the serving of Falk and dynamic hits by Horner.
“We just decided all it takes is one point at a time,” Horner said. “We’re going to get the first five points and go from there. It was just the mentality—put the ball down, don’t let it cross the net. When we got those first five points, we just ran with it.”
But Trinity didn’t fold, scratching its way into contention at 7-3, but Tabor never allowed the Trolls to cash in. Instead, the Bluejays stretched their lead to as much as 14-6 before scoring the winning point on a kill by Jessanna Nebel for a 15-6 final.
Ratzlaff said the impact of the home crowd made a huge difference.
“When you’re in the home gym, I feel the girls turn their adrenaline on,” she said. “That elevates you, it only lasts a certain amount of time—but it was enough for us in that last set.”
Horner led Tabor with 18 kills to go with a hitting percentage of .121. The Trolls had three players with double-digit kills: Kacie Stoll 19, Danielle Overman 18 and Lydia Smits 12.
Megan Voth generated a team-high 29 assists and Keeley Kroeker added 16. Ali Jost led Tabor with 25 defensive digs with Horner adding 21, Kroeker 12 and Voth 10.
With Tabor’s win, the Bluejays advance to the national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, with a 28-9 record. Trinity Christian completes its season with a 27-13 mark.
The national tournament will begin with three days of pool play Nov. 28-30. The top two teams in each pool will advance to the elimination bracket Dec. 1. The national champion will be crowned Dec. 2.