CASPER, Wyo. – The No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the polls clashed at the National Junior College Athletic Association national volleyball tournament for the seventh and eighth places last Saturday afternoon.
In the end, top-seeded Panola College took down a WNCC volleyball team. The Cougars gave it their all in a match that came down to the wire, however, the fired-up Fillies advanced, rallying in the five-set thriller, 19-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-13, 15-12.
The Cougars finished the season at 35-7.
Barbara Briceno, who finished with 16 kills on the day, said they can live with the loss knowing that they came out with a lot more energy and fight then in their previous matches at the national tournament. “We started off really good in the first two sets. I think we were playing as a team because the other matches I don’t feel like we were playing like a team,” Briceno said. “Today, the energy was really good (on and off) the court. The entire team was actually really excited.”
Head Coach Binny Canales was pleased with how the team played. “We started off really, really emotional. I would like to say it was intensity, but it was emotion. We then went a little flat and then we started playing again in the fifth,” he said. “It was a good overall game. We were playing the No. 1 team in the nation. They had their ups and downs as well. It was a good match.”
WNCC played improved on their previous match Friday, when they lost 3-1 to Northwest in the quarterfinals. The Cougars hit .247 for the game while Panola hit .285. The Cougars had four players with double-digit kills.
Lara Picht led WNCC with a triple-double performance of 18 kills, 10 digs, and 12 points. Briceno finished with 16 kills with nine digs, while Spreier and Kaawa each had 10 kills.
The team also garnered a 56-set assist performance from Bia Berti. Berti also snuck home five kills with five digs.
Other standouts included Kaawa, who had nine digs while Briceno had seven digs. Alwaise Villa added seven digs while Genesis Benitez had eight digs. Kadara Marshall finished with five kills, Picht with two aces, Joise Maldonado with a kill, and Lauren Shaul with a dig.
Both Panola and WNCC were upset in the quarterfinals.
WNCC started strong in the first set, jumping out to a 11-5 lead on a Spreier kill and led 22-15 after a Villa service point. The Cougars took the set 25-13.
The second set was a little tighter as Panola led 9-6 at one time before taking a 15-14 lead on two Picht service points. Panola sliced the lead to 22-21 before Speier and Picht hammered home kills for the win and the two-set advantage.
Panola started the third set strong with a 9-4 lead before WNCC started to make a comeback, cutting the lead to three points late. The Fillies held on for the 25-22 win.
Panola started the fourth set with an 8-2 lead and WNCC never really got into the game falling 25-13 and forcing a fifth set.
In the fifth, Panola ran to a 10-6 before WNCC started a late comeback cutting the lead to 12-10. WNCC couldn’t get a service run going to get any closer in falling 15-12.
Canales was also proud of the team’s season even though they came up short on the scoreboard Saturday afternoon. “We are happy with the overall season,” he said. “Of course you want it better at the end, but at least they tried. The sophomores will move on and we will get ready with the freshmen and start recruiting.”
The Cougars lose five sophomores in Spreier, Briceno, Picht, Alwaise Villa, and Maraea O’Connor. Canales said those five will be missed.
“They were a good part of the team,” he said. “They had a lot of fire and determination. They helped us get second in the nation last year. They kept us a lot of games and we are going to miss them tremendously.”
In other results from the national tournament, Miami Dade captured its first national title since 2004 with a sweep over Iowa Western Community College 25-20, 25-13, 18. Polk State won the third place match 25-22, 22-25, 25-17, 25-13 over Santa Fe College, while Salt Lake Community College finished fifth with a four-set 25-22, 25-16, 22-25, 25-16 win over Northwest College, and Tyler Junior College finished ninth with a five-set 25-22, 26-28, 26-25, 25-22, 15-4 win over Mineral Area.
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