SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Down two-sets-to-nothing, the 15th-ranked Concordia University volleyball team had to dig deep to save its 2019 season. That’s exactly what it did. No, it wasn’t a win, but by forcing five sets the Bulldogs locked up a spot in the round of 16 at the NAIA Volleyball National Championship. Third-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University held off Concordia, 25-18, 25-20, 18-25, 14-25, 15-12, late on Thursday night (Dec. 5).
In defeat, second-year head coach Ben Boldt’s squad proved its mental toughness. The Bulldogs (25-7) went 2-1 in pool play and are clearly a threat to the top teams in the NAIA.
“It’s awesome,” said Boldt in reaction to the continuation of the season. “The moment I told the team you could feel it. We didn’t just come here to be here. The season wasn’t over when we got here. It’s up to us to refocus for tomorrow.”
This was the type of gritty, white-knuckler one might see in the GPAC. There were times when the Wildcats (36-2) appeared to have Concordia overmatched in the opening set. The Bulldogs hit .071 in the first set and .000 in the second set. Boldt’s crew kept coming. They finally found a little separation in the third set with the help of an Arleigh Costello block during a run that put Concordia up 20-16. It was able to finish it off with a kill by senior star Emmie Noyd.
The best stretch of play for the Bulldogs came in the fourth set when they hit .326 and rode a wave of momentum that Indiana Wesleyan could not snuff out. In a defensive battle, Concordia had found a groove and again leaned upon Noyd, who put down 15 more kills (and had six blocks) to bring her national tournament kill total to 52. Kara Stark (12), Camryn Opfer (10) and Kalee Wiltfong (10) also reached double figures in kills on Thursday.
This was a night for the back row to shine with a contest featuring plenty of lengthy rallies. Marissa Hoerman had 28 digs, Erin Johnson added 25 and Kaylie Dengel chipped in 17. The Bulldogs also posted 12 blocks and held Indiana Wesleyan to a .127 hitting percentage.
A Wiltfong kill provided Concordia an 8-7 lead as the two teams switched sides in the fifth set. The Wildcats evened up on the next series and the Bulldogs never led again. A kill by Marci Miller landed for match point. At that juncture, Boldt would have been proud no matter what. Concordia had already secured a spot in the 16-team national championship bracket.
“We’re competitors … I just love the team,” Boldt said. “I didn’t really have a whole lot of strategy for them after the third set. I told them, ‘Why not us?’ You could feel the trust they have in each other and they believe they have in each other. To be on a team where you can feel that, that’s what it’s all about.”
Whatever happens going forward, it seems safe to say that the Bulldogs will play without fear. It hasn’t seemed to matter that not a single player on the roster had previous experience on the national stage.
“We made it to the sweet 16 so that’s pretty cool,” Opfer said. “I’m excited to see what our team does with that. I think we’ll grab it and just go.”
Three Wildcats had at least 10 kills: Kelly Miller (14), Marci Miller (13) and Ana Collar (11). Indiana Wesleyan was getting ready to take on No. 19 Montana Tech in a tiebreaker contest (first to 25 wins) as of a few minutes after midnight.
Bracket play: Late Thursday night, Concordia learned it had earned the No. 1 seed out of Pool C. The Bulldogs will be taking on fourth-ranked Missouri Baptist at 3:45 p.m. CT on Friday (Dec. 6) in the single-elimination bracket. With a win, the Bulldogs would play again on Friday in the quarterfinals at 8:15 p.m.
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