The Tabor College volleyball team’s historic season came to a close on the national stage at the conclusion of pool play last week.
Tabor qualified for post-season play for the first time in program history, then defeated Wayland Baptist to earn a spot to compete among a 32-team field in pool play in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Bluejays (26-9) were placed in Pool D, with Lindsey Wilson (Ky., 31-1), Biola (Calif., 24-9) and MidAmerica Nazarene (27-7).
Coach Amy Ratzlaff said she was nervous about how her team would perform on the national stage, but their play from day one eased any concerns.
“The best thing about being there the first day was I realized we belonged on that stage at the national level,” she said. “(My girls) are a top team in the nation, and they should feel good about that. It wasn’t just we got lucky we got there and then didn’t know what to do. They qualified and they got there and just played their hearts out.”
Lindsey Wilson—The Bluejays opened competition with a 3-0 loss to the fourth-ranked Blue Raiders Tuesday.
“They were really middle dominant,” Ratzlaff said of Lindsey Wilson. “A lot of the KCAC teams are outside dominant. Most of the national-level teams are middle dominant, so we really had to adjust to that. Our middles had to work very hard to contain their middles, and they did a great job with that. I was so impressed with our defense, not just our middle hitters, but our back-row defense.”
Tabor lost Set 1, 25-16. Aside from a pair of ties, Lindsey Wilson led from start to finish. The Blue Raiders recorded 14 kills to Tabor’s 10, and limited the Bluejays’ attack with five blocks in the set. Lindsey Wilson scored the set’s final three points via two kills and a block to enjoy its largest margin at the end.
Kendra Kroeker and Tena Loewen led the attack with three kills apiece. Tabor hit .050 for the set.
Tabor lost Set 2, 26-24. The Bluejays trailed, 4-0, at the start, but battled to take the lead, 13-12, after back-to-back kills by Loewen. The teams knotted the score at 15, but with three kills, Lindsey Wilson regained the lead.
With the Blue Raiders in front, 24-21, Tabor rallied, using kills by Loewen and Ali Jost and a Lindsey Wilson attack error to tie the game. The Blue Raiders scored the next two points, however, to win it.
Tabor lost Set 3, 25-19. Loewen scored the set’s first point via kill, and Loewen’s second kill of the set tied the game at 6. However, from there, Lindsey Wilson went on a 9-4 run and later increased its lead to 21-14. Tabor scored the set’s next four points, thanks to a kill by Miranda Leibold and three Blue Raider errors, to draw within 21-18. But the Bluejays managed just one point after that, and Lindsey Wilson went on to win by six.
Loewen and Amy Horner led Tabor’s attack with 12 kills each. Megan Voth had 20 assists. Keeley Kroeker had 10. Jost had 21 digs, Horner 13 and Voth 12.
MidAmerica Nazarene—Tabor suffered a 3-0 loss to the 13th-ranked Pioneers Wednesday in its second match of pool play.
“We didn’t play as well the second day,” Ratzlaff said. “Out of our three days, I would say our second day, we didn’t play as sharp. We looked tired, and I don’t know why. There’s really no reason for that.”
Tabor lost Set 1, 25-21. The Bluejays enjoyed a hot start, offensively, hitting .636 with eight kills and only one attack error to stake an 11-6 lead. Amy Horner led the way with four kills among Tabor’s first seven points.
However, the Pioneers used four kills, three Bluejay errors and a service ace to tie the game at 14. The match was also tied at 18, but a Bluejay attack error gave MidAmerica the lead for good. The Pioneers gained momentum, using five kills to contribute to a 6-3 run to the finish.
Tabor lost Set 2, 25-23. The Pioneers scored their first two points via Bluejay service errors; in all, Tabor missed four serves in the set. MidAmerica built a 13-8 lead, forcing Tabor to call timeout. Horner responded with a kill to ignite a 10-5 run and capped it with another kill, tying the game at 18.
Tabor took the lead briefly, 21-20, after a kill by Horner, and the teams were tied at 23 following a kill by Kendra Kroeker, but a kill and an error sealed the Pioneers’ win.
Tabor lost Set 3, 25-16. The Bluejays enjoyed a 4-2 lead early and built it to 11-7 following a service ace by Loewen. Tabor held a 12-9 advantage after a Horner kill, but the Pioneers used a 4-0 run to take the lead. Kills by Kroeker and Horner helped Tabor tie the game at 14, but from there, it was all MidAmerica, as the Pioneers outscored the Bluejays 11-2 to end it.
Tabor hit .264 for the match with 45 kills, led by Horner with 14. Kroeker and Loewen each had 11. Megan Voth had 22 assists. Keeley Kroeker added 19. Ali Jost had 13 digs.
Biola—Tabor’s first-ever appearance on the national stage came to a close with a 3-2 loss to Biola, Thursday.
The Bluejays won the first two sets and were on the brink of winning their first match in pool play. But the Eagles came storming back to win the final three sets. Each team scored 107 points in the match.
“Our girls played hard defense, hard offense,” Ratzlaff said. “Biola just picked everything up.
“It just maybe wasn’t meant to be because I have never seen our team play so hard. Every point, every ball, every rally. There was never a moment where our girls let down. Biola is just a good team, and at the end of the day, we were one point away from getting them.”
Tabor won Set 1, 25-22. The Bluejays trailed 12-9, but benefitted from five Eagle errors after that to tie the game at 15. Tena Loewen tied the game at 18 with a kill, and blocks by Amy Horner and Sydney Peitz gave Tabor the lead, 20-18. The Bluejays maintained the advantage, using kills by Horner and Kendra Kroeker, as well as a service ace by Miranda Leibold, to secure the three-point win. Kroeker led the team with four kills in the set.
Tabor won Set 2, 25-18, hitting .276 with 12 kills and four attack errors.
With Biola in front, 8-7, Tabor enjoyed a 7-1 run to take a 14-9 lead and prompt an Eagle timeout. Horner contributed a block and back-to-back kills to give Tabor its largest margin of the set, 21-13, and Tabor went on to win by seven after a kill by Loewen.
In a highly-contested Set 3, Biola earned a 27-25 win. With Tabor plagued by errors, Biola built a 13-8 lead. Tabor rallied within 14-11 after kills by Loewen and Horner, but the Eagles then stretched their margin to 17-11. The Bluejays used a 5-0 run to close the gap to one, thanks in part to a pair of service aces by Leibold. Tabor later took a 24-22 lead after a block by Loewen but couldn’t capitalize, as Biola outscored the Bluejays 5-1 after that to earn the win.
With momentum building for the Eagles, Biola won Set 4, 25-21. The set was tied 12 times. The Bluejays had the lead, 21-20, after kills by Horner and Peitz, but Biola scored the set’s final five points to win it.
Biola then won Set 5, 15-11. The Bluejays fell behind early, 8-3, and couldn’t make up the difference. On the brink of elimination, trailing, 14-7, Tabor stayed alive by scoring four consecutive points thanks to a pair of errors and two kills by Leibold. But an Eagle kill after that gave Biola the victory.
Tabor hit .135 for the match. Horner recorded a game-high 16 kills. Loewen added 14. Megan Voth had 24 assists. Keeley Kroeker had 14. Ali Jost had 22 digs, Horner 12, Loewen 11, and Haley Falk 10. Kendra Kroeker had three solo blocks.
With an 0-3 record in pool play, Tabor was eliminated from competition. Lindsey Wilson and Biola advanced out of pool play, with Biola losing to eventual-champion Hastings in the first round of single-elimination bracket play, and Lindsey Wilson losing to Midland in the quarterfinals.
The Bluejays conclude the season with an overall record of 26-12.
Ratzlaff said she has never before coached a team like this one.
“I had never been a part of a group like this where every single girl was on the same page, and every single parent was on the same page,” she said. “Our fan base was remarkable at the national tournament. We had one of the biggest crowd sections there. (These) are the seasons that as a coach you feel so blessed and you remember why you coach. There is nothing like these girls. If I could have this exact team back, I would take them in a heartbeat, and I’d be ready to start tomorrow.”
For two seniors, Miranda Leibold and Tena Loewen, it was their final outing in a Tabor volleyball uniform.
Ratzlaff spoke highly of both of them.
“I have never met a girl like Miranda,” she said. “(She) literally has played through every possible hardship with a smile on her face.
“I’m so thrilled that she got to experience that kind of success here. The girls loved her, and she was a cohesive part of who we were.
“Tena, obviously, is a big loss physically, statistically, positionally. She’s a six-rotation player, which always takes a hit on a team.
“When your top performer is also your top leader, great things happen, and that really does sum up Tena. It will be really hard to not see her on the court again.”