Morningside scored a major upset on the opening night of pool play at the NAIA Volleyball National Championship for the second year in a row when the Mustangs swept ninth-ranked Columbia 25-23, 25-20, 25-16 on Tuesday at Sioux City’s Tyson Events Center/Gateway Arena.
The Mustangs, who knocked off No. 7 Park in last year’s national tourney opener, improved their record to 19-12 heading into a 6 p.m. Wednesday match against No. 8 Grand View, which defeated Tabor 3-1 on Tuesday. The top two teams from the four-team pool will advance to the tournament’s single-elimination bracket on Friday and Saturday.
Morningside’s win against Columbia came against one of the winningest programs in the history of the NAIA National Championship. The Cougars entered the tourney with an all-time record of 90-44 in the NAIA Volleyball National Championship for the second most victories of any team in the nation, trailing only the 97 victories amassed by Fresno Pacific before it moved to the NCAA Division II ranks. Columbia has won four NAIA National Championships, its most recent in 2015, and finished as the national runner-up five times.
Morningside out blocked (9 to 7) a Columbia team that entered the tournament fifth in the nation with an average of 2.58 blocks per set and a Cougar attack that was 10th in the nation with a .247 hitting percentage never clicked and finished with a dismal .093 showing.
Jenn Buyert paced the Mustangs’ attack with 11 kills for her team-high 13th double figure performance of the season and her seventh double figure effort in her last nine outings. Buyert raised her career total to 979 kills to close within 21 terminations of becoming the 16th player in Morningside history to amass 1000 career kills.
Krista Zenk and Jayde Bergmann were next with six kills and Emma Gerber had five.
Callie Alberico helped ignite the Mustangs’ attack with 27 assists to go along with two ace serves.
Aside from her six kills, Bergmann had a match-high three ace serves and led all performers with 18 digs to match her career high achieved against Briar Cliff earlier this season. Nikki Oberfoell joined Bergmann in double figures with 10 digs, followed by Morgan Gourley with seven.
Brittni Olson led the Mustangs with five block assists, followed by Buyert and Gerber with four each.
Buyert slammed five kills in the opening set, including the set winner, to lead the Mustangs to a 25-23 opening set triumph. The Mustangs’ attack also received significant contributions from Zenk and Gerber with four and three kills, respectively.
Two kills by Gerber and a kill by Buyert helped stake the Mustangs to an early 5-2 lead. The Cougars battled back to tie the set at 14 and again at 15, but they never took the lead. The Mustangs reeled off four unanswered points to open a 19-15 advantage and led the rest of the way.
Morningside rallied from an early 8-2 deficit to take the second set. The Mustangs tied the score at 15 on an ace serve by Bergmann. The score was tied at 17 before a kill by Buyert put the Mustangs ahead to stay at 18-17. The Mustangs increased their advantage to 22-18 after Alberico burned the Cougars with a setter dump and Olson and Bergman combined for a block assist. Leading 24-20, the Mustangs scored the set winner on a Columbia service error.
The third set was all Morningside when the Mustangs jumped out to a 9-2 advantage and never looked back. Leading 11-6, the Mustangs put Columbia away with a five-point run that featured two kills by Buyert, a kill by Bergmann and a pair of ace serves by Alberico to go up 16-6. Bergmann eventually hammered home the set winner to complete the sweep.