It was a battle of two top 20 ranked teams and the action on the court didn’t disappoint the spectators in the crowd as No. 5 Iowa Western Community College topped No. 18 Western Nebraska Community College in five sets 28-26, 25-23, 21-25, 17-25, 16-14 in the Cougars final regular season home match.
WNCC drops to 24-9 on the season as it prepares for the Region IX tournament that begins on Halloween in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at Storey Gym. The Cougars will play at 1 p.m. Oct. 31 against the winner of the North 4/South 5 winner.
Sarena Bartley, who finished with 16 kills and one of the six sophomores that played their final game at Cougar Palace, said despite the loss, WNCC played one of its best games.
“I thought we played well together. I think this was probably the best match that we all played together for a couple of games,” Bartley said. “Especially since we were playing a No. 5-ranked team, we played very well and competed with them.”
WNCC showed plenty of fight after Iowa Western grabbed the first two sets, winning the first 28-26 after WNCC had two set points at 25-24 and 26-25. The second set The Reivers led 20-12 at one time before WNCC made a comeback behind six Kaile Tuisamatatele service points before losing 25-23.
WNCC came back to grab the next two sets. Bartley said the key was blocking and playing together.
“The difference in the third and fourth set was we were determined about losing in our home,” she said. “We didn’t want to get swept at our home and we were determined to fight to win this game. But the ending had to happen like that.”
The third set was the turning point as the Cougars stayed strong in a set that neither team led by more than three points. WNCC a 10-9 lead from Iowa Western off a Logan Belford service point. Iowa Western led late 17-16 and 19-18 but WNCC took a 22-20 lead on a Amryi-Grace Paris kill and Camille Esselin point. Adia Sherbeyn then served the final two points for the 25-21 win.
WNCC built off that win into the fourth set leading 6-2 on four Esselin points. Iowa Western sliced the lead to two points a couple of times, but WNCC never wavered and went up 21-15 on two service points and then won the set 25-17 to force a fifth set.
The fifth set was classic between two ranked teams that battled and fought to the end. Iowa Western led 8-5 and 11-8 in the deciding set. WNCC came back to tie the set at 11 on two Enna Masaki service points. Both teams were tied at 13-13, 14-14, and 15-15 before Iowa Western Managed the final two points for the 17-15 win.
WNCC finished with 56 kills in the match. Paris led the way with 17 kills with three solo blocks while Bartley hammered down 16 kills. Leslie Mamai-Lagafuaina had 11.
Masaki and Esselin each finished with double-doubles in the match. Masaki tallied 17 digs and 39 set assists. She also had seven points, two aces, and two kills. Esselin had 19 digs and 12 points.
Ana Costas finished with 30 digs to go along with her six points, two aces, and four set assists.
Also for the Cougars, Jayme Commins had 14 set assists and six digs; Tuisamatatele had eight kills, seven digs, and four solo blocks; Sherbeyn had eight digs and eight points, and Belford had four digs and five points.
Bartley said they can build off of this match heading into regionals next week.
“I think we just have to play hard,” she said. “I think we just have to practice hard and we have practice tomorrow [Saturday]. We are going to sharpen up and get ready for regionals.”
Bartley she enjoyed her time at WNCC even though they lost the final time playing at Cougar Palace. But, it was how they played that she can live with.
“It kind of sucks that we lost but I think this is the best we played together all season,” she said. “We did not let down on ourselves. We did not lose energy. It was great to play here for two years. I am going to miss this gym and playing inside it.”