The Trappers went 6-1 and downed No. 5 Western Wyoming in six straight sets to win the Region IX Tournament and advance to the NJCAA National Tournament in Casper Nov. 21-23.
Northwest had to beat the No. 1-seeded Mustangs twice to claim the title in the double-elimination tournament.
The Trappers lost in the second round to Casper but went on to win five straight matches (in which they won 15-straight sets) to avoid elimination.
“I’m still kind of trying to comprehend the whole thing,” said Pohlman, who ranked this as one of his most memorable achievements.
Western Wyoming needed only two match victories to advance to the title game. The Mustangs rode a 18-match win streak into Saturday’s finale. Western’s last loss came against Western Nebraska Sept. 19.
Northwest’s upset of the Mustangs was a total team effort, Pohlman said.
The Trappers won the first half of their championship doubleheader 25-20, 25-23, 25-21, and did so without the best game from their go-to hitter.
Sophomore outside hitter Ana Jakovljevic was held to just six kills and five errors on 17 attempts in the first match. She also tallied three aces, seven digs and two block assists.
Pohlman said his team’s success despite Jakovljevic’s relatively low kill numbers is indicative of Northwest’s depth.
“When you win in three against the No. 5 team in the country that just means that everybody else stepped up,” Pohlman said.
Freshman outside hitter Vera Horstmann picked up her game and recorded 13 kills and five errors on 29 attempts. She also had three digs and two block assists.
Freshman Megan Huddleston was second on the team with 12 kills, one error and 29 attempts. She was a valuable asset defensively, as well. Huddleston notched six digs and two block assists.
Freshman middle Jamila Biglow, who played sparingly during the regular season, was third for the Trappers with eight kills and no errors on 10 attempts.
Right side hitter Krystalyn Sloan hit an errorless eight kills and had one solo block and four block assists. Sloan’s .889 kill percentage was tops in the match.
The Trappers’ offense was directed by sophomore setter Mikaela Heble, who had 41 assists, six digs and a block assist in her three sets.
“She figured some things out about herself as an athlete,” Pohlman said. “She was leading (and) she was making great decisions.”
Both teams immediately turned around for the final, winner-take-all match.
“It came down to emotion, it came down to wanting it more,” Pohlman said. “And I really truly believe we wanted it more than anyone else.”
The Trappers bested Western in three sets, each by a razor-thin margin. Northwest clinched its status as Region IX’s best with a 25-22, 25-22, 25-23 victory.
Jakovljevic rebounded from her disappointing first match with 12 kills and five errors on 27 attempts, plus 15 digs and two block assists.
Horstmann matched Jakovljevic with 12 kills, but had 10 errors on 35 attempts. Horstmann also added four digs and a block assist.
Sloan continued her efficient work with nine kills and no errors to go along with a solo block, four block assists and one dig.
Heble once again anchored the Trappers with 35 assists and nine digs.
“It was a team effort, and there were a lot of people leading that charge, and she was definitely one of those people,” Pohlman said.
Sophomore Kayla Van Hee recorded 15 digs in the final six sets.
Northwest beat the host Eastern Wyoming Lancers 25-16, 25-17, 25-12 in the tourney opener.
The Trappers lost to Casper 25-27, 21-25, 20-25 in the second round Friday but exacted revenge on the Thunderbirds in Saturday’s semifinal match, 25-21, 25-23, 25-18.
Heble notched 48 assists in the semis, 20 of which were killed by Horstmann.
Sloan (12) and Jakovljevic (11) also surpassed double-digit kills.
Libero Elisa Brooks led with 11 digs against Casper. The freshman had a total of 22 against Western.
Friday’s wins over Central Wyoming (22-25, 25-16, 25-16, 25-19) and Laramie County (25-19, 25-16, 25-17) staved off elimination and put Northwest back on track to reach the finals.
Outside hitter Felicity Zegarelli unfortunately played her final match as a Trapper against Casper. The sophomore injured her shoulder late in the regular season and will have to sit for the remainder of Northwest’s season.
“She can hold her head high,” Pohlman said. “She gave absolutely everything she had.”
Jakovljevic is now 10 kills away from 1,000 career kills, a mark she will almost certainly pass at the national tournament.
Heble assisted her 1,000th kill of the season and has 1,368 for her career.
The Trappers will head to Casper Nov. 19 and begin play Nov. 21 at the Casper Events Center.