The Trappers advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament by defeating No. 5 Western Wyoming in six straight sets at the Region IX Tournament Nov. 9.
An accomplishment that grand could feel like the conclusion to a successful season, but the true ending has yet to be written. Northwest will begin its run for a national title today (Thursday) when it plays Central Florida at 11 a.m. at the Casper Events Center in Casper.
The Trappers have spent the past two weeks practicing, beginning with light sessions and slowly working up to the intensity needed at a national tournament.
“I like where we’re at,” said head coach Shaun Pohlman. “We had to time it right when we built it back up.”
Pohlman said Northwest (24-11) is feeling confident, and eager to hit the court.
“You never know until you start the match,” Pohlman said. “Until you’re in that situation, you don’t know how you’re going to act. You prepare the best you can and hope that carries some confidence through it.”
The Trappers enter the national tournament on a 15-set win streak as the 10th (out of 16) seed.
“I feel like we’re the wild card, to be honest,” Pohlman said. “This is that team that can pull some upsets.”
Northwest will have to pull multiple upsets to advance deep into the tourney. The No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation would likely stand in the Trappers’ way before the finals, and a win over No. 7 Central Florida would qualify as an upset as well.
The Patriots (26-12) finished the regular season as the 10th-ranked team in the nation.
Coach Pohlman said Central Florida is a formidable opponent that has proven to be tough to put away.
“They’ve played 10 five-set matches,” Pohlman said. “This is a team that’s going to fight back every step of the way.
“I think they have depth and I think they have size and more importantly, they have a coach that has taught them how to work for it.”
The Patriots are coached by Flavia Siqueria, and Trapper fans should be familiar with her. Siqueria was Northwest’s coach prior to Pohlman, and led the Trappers to their previous national tournament appearance in 2009.
Pohlman competed against Siqueria’s Trappers when he was the head coach at Dodge City Community College in Kansas.
“She took care of this program,” Pohlman said.
Siqueria, who started the Patriots’ volleyball program, has taken care of business at Central Florida as well.
“It will be a fairly good matchup in terms of talent, our team to their team,” Pohlman said. “Hopefully both teams just come out and put on a good show.”
Northwest sophomore Ana Jakovljevic is fourth in the nation with 5.7 points per set, and is the only Trapper in the top 50.
Patriot middle blocker Brittney Brown (3.9 points per set) ranks 36th and outside hitter Raveen Golston (3.7) is 48th.
Pohlman called Brown a “dynamic” player.
“They find a way to make sure she gets the ball,” he said.
Brown is 43rd in the nation with 1.02 blocks per set.
Golston is another go-to player for Central Florida who is undersized at 5-feet, 6-inches, but has “springs in her legs,” Pohlman said.
Northwest sophomore Mikaela Heble is eighth in the nation with 10.66 assists per set.
The Trappers will be without usual starter Felicity Zegarelli, who was lost for the season with a shoulder injury during the regional tournament.
A first-round win would put the Trappers in the quarterfinals against the winner of No. 2 Tyler (Tyler, Texas) and No. 15 Wallace State at 5:30 p.m. today (Thursday). A loss would send them to the consolation bracket where they would face the loser of that same match at 10 a.m. Friday.
The best the Trappers could do following a first-round loss would be ninth place, something Pohlman said is a great accomplishment. But right now, the team has its sights set higher.
“Right now, everybody gets the shot for the national title,” Pohlman said. “I know the girls know they’re capable of getting through this ... coming home with a trophy.”
Northwest was seen off by coaches and members of other Trapper athletic teams Tuesday inside Cabre Gym. Coach Pohlman, Northwest College president Stefani Hicswa and Vice President of Student Services Sean Fox all spoke and wished the team good luck as they represent the school.