CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team erased a 2-0 deficit and came back to record a five-set win over Northwest College in the semifinals of the Region IX tournament at Storey Gym in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Northwest captured the first two sets 25-19, 25-21 before the Cougars stormed back in claiming the next three 25-17, 25-23, 15-4 to move in the championship game of the regional tournament. WNCC will play Northeastern Junior College Friday at 4 p.m. with the winner advancing to the national tournament while the loser falls into the elimination bracket and needs to win on Saturday for the other national tournament berth. NJC also came back from a 2-0 deficit to top Laramie County Community College in five sets 25-27, 15-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-11.
WNCC’s win moves the Cougars to 28-7 on the season as the team looks to win their 20th straight Region IX championship.
WNCC coach Binny Canales said his team battled with several players stepping up, including sophomore Logan Belford, who moved from defense to a hitter, and the defensive play from Terri Takita-Robbins.
“It was a uphill battle and fight all the way through it,” Canales said. “We came back which I am proud of, but we should have never got ourselves in that hole. I thought Logan stepped in and did some really great things. She had great court vision. She went from passing to hittingand she did well. She gave us a different option.”
Belford said it feels good to have come back to get the win and the key was playing with energy.
“I think it was a really good win,” Belford, the sophomore from Loveland, Colorado, said. “We could have started off a little stronger, but in the end, we got our energy up and played as a team, especially in the third set.”
Energy was definitely the difference and that is something they need to win matches, Belford said.
“Energy is very important because we are a very high-energy team,” she said. “We play very well when there is a lot of energy on the court. Energy is very important to us. “
Now the Cougars are one win from winning their 20th straight regional title. Belford said
“It is a really big game tomorrow,” she said. “If we win it will be 20 wins in a row. This is a big match.”
Canales said playing for a championship means a lot for his players.
“It means a lot and hopefully it gets a monkey off our back,” he said. “We got ourselves in a lot of holes all year and we are playing for a regional title. We want to do well. I know the kids want to; we just need to prepare better for the next match. My hats off to Northwest. They played well. They served us tough, their outside hitters attacked us really well, and they are well-coached and they were well-prepared to play us.”
But, Canales said, the team picked up that energy when they needed to move into Friday’s first championship match.
“We had a lot more energy and the energy kept growing and growing. We were really flat at the beginning and didn’t look mentally prepared. They need to take every match like it is their last match, which it is right now. We have to play hard. The level of volleyball has gotten a lot better over the last few years in the region and every match is a battle.
Thursday’s contest was a battle as the Cougars struggled in the first two sets. The opening set saw Northwest lead 11-7 and 18-12 before WNCC sliced the lead to 20-18 before losing 25-19.
The second set was better. WNCC led 19-16 and then 21-19 before giving up six straight points to fall 25-21.
Belford said the next three sets was a different Cougar team on the court.
“The key [in the final three sets] was just working better as a team,” she said. “The first two sets everybody was off. Our passing was off, our hitting was off, and our whole team was a little off. In the third set we finally started to bring that all together and it slowly progressed until the fifth set where we brought everything together as a team.”
WNCC trailed in the third 14-9 before Enna Masaki went on a 6-point service run to put the Cougars in front 16-14. Adia Sherbeyn moved the Cougars even further in front at 21-15 with four points before Ana Costas served out the win with three points and the 25-17 win.
The fourth set was back and forth with neither team holding more than a 3-point lead. WNCC led 23-21 late before the Trappers knotted things at 23-23. Logan Belford stopped the momentum with a kill and then Camille Esselin served the final point to force a deciding fifth set.
The fifth set was all WNCC. The Cougars started with a 4-1 lead behind two Masaki service points and pushed the lead to 8-3. Belford recorded another kill for a 9-4 lead and then Esselin served out the match with six straight points to send the Cougars in the championship.
WNCC’s success in the match was strong serving in the final three sets and clutch kills and timely defensive.
The Cougars finished with 63 kills and had 77 defensive digs.
Amryi-Grace Paris led the team with 17 kills followed by Leslie Mamai-Lagafuaina with 13 and Kaile Tuisamatatele with 11. Masaki added eight followed by Belford, Esselin, and Sarena Bartley with five each.
Masaki finished with a triple-double, finishing with 13 digs, 12 points, and 51 set assists. She also had three ace serves.
Also for the Cougars, Belford finished with four digs and two points; Ana Costas had 27 digs, nie points, and two aces; Sherbeyn had five digs, 10 points, and four aces; Jayme Commins had three digs; Esselin had eight digs and five points; Tuisamatatele had seven digs and eight points; and Takita-Robins had seven digs.
In elimination bracket action earlier on Thursday, McCook eliminated Otero 26-24, 28-26, 25-27, 19-25, 15-11, while Western Wyoming swept past Casper. Western Wyoming will now face Northwest while McCook faces LCCC in elimination action on Friday.