The Trappers beat No. 10 Central Florida in the first round before losing to No. 2 Tyler, No. 3 Western Nebraska and No. 4 Iowa Western to finish in the top half of the 16-team field.
Head coach Shaun Pohlman said the Trappers enjoyed a tremendously successful year, though the moments after the season’s final loss are bittersweet.
“You never want to end on a loss,” Pohlman said after Saturday’s four-set loss to Iowa Western. “But at the same time, did you give everything you got?”
The Trappers gave everything and more just to make the national tournament. The team that went into the Region IX tournament as the No. 3 seed won 15 straight sets, including six against fifth-ranked Western Wyoming to claim the district championship.
Freshman middle Jamila Biglow said the Trappers rallied around each other at the regional tournament and let that momentum propel them into nationals.
“We realized right before our last few games, ‘It’s now or never,’” Biglow said. “Nothing else mattered besides volleyball.”
The consecutive set streak was snapped in the national tournament’s first round, but Northwest came away with a 3-1 win over the Central Florida Patriots.
Three Trappers scored double-digit points and sophomore setter Mikaela Heble recorded 47 assists as Northwest took down the Patriots, who were seeded seventh, 25-21, 23-25, 25-18, 25-17 Thursday morning.
“We wanted to show everybody that we were supposed to be at that tournament,” Biglow said.
Sophomore Ana Jakovljevic had 19 kills and four aces for 23 total points. She also tallied 12 digs.
Freshman Krystalyn Sloan was the most efficient Northwest attacker. The middle blocker scored 10 kills and only three errors on 15 attempts for a .467 kill percentage. The 6-foot Sloan also had two solo blocks and five block assists to give her a total of 14.5 points.
Outside hitter Vera Horstmann had 18 kills, her second-highest total of the season. Horstmann committed only two errors on 47 attempts for a .340 kill percentage. The freshman also chipped in three block assists and three digs.
Megan Huddleston had five kills and no errors on 13 attempts. She also served two aces, had two block assists and led the team with 13 digs.
For Huddleston it was another strong performance in what was a breakout postseason. After averaging 2.06 points per set during limited regular season playing time, the freshman averaged 2.7 points per set in the regional and national tournaments.
Huddleston was inserted into the lineup following an injury to starter Felicity Zegarelli. She said her teammates and coaches helped her make the most of her opportunity.
“It was the support of the team,” she said. “Everyone knew I could get the job done.”
Huddleston and the rest of the Trappers fell just short of getting the job done against Tyler Thursday evening. Northwest lost to the Apaches 21-25, 24-26, 25-22, 25-27.
An inability to make serves was the difference in a match in which the Trappers lost three sets by a total of eight points.
Northwest served only one ace and committed 14 errors, while Tyler scored two aces and had just seven service errors.
“It’s always serve and pass,” Pohlman said. “The reason we lost to Tyler was serve and pass.”
Tyler had 65 digs to Northwest’s 57.
The sting from the quarterfinal loss resonates in the minds of Trappers, who knew a win would have sent them to the final four.
“I definitely thought we could have done a lot better,” Biglow said. “We were a little upset that we didn’t make it to the top four but I think just being at the national tournament (was an accomplishment).”
Huddleston knows the Trappers gave Tyler too many easy points.
“You look back and you see the little points that matter, a missed serve here or there,” Huddleston said. “If we saw them again it would definitely be a different story.”
Huddleston had 12 kills and no errors on 25 attempts. She recorded 11 digs for a double-double and had four block assists and one solo block.
Jakovljevic led Northwest with 20 kills but committed 10 errors on 55 attempts.
Biglow notched six kills and no errors on 13 attempts. She also added four block assists and one solo block.
Biglow has enjoyed a postseason surge similar to Huddleston’s. Biglow averaged just 1.4 points per set in the regular season but has improved that to 2.2 points in the postseason. She has also scored nine or more points three times since the start of the regional tournament, matching her total from the regular season.
Freshman libero Elisa Brooks had a team-high 22 digs and Heble had 49 assists and four digs. Sophomore defensive specialist Kayla Van Hee had 12 digs.
Heble had four serving errors, Brooks had three and Jakovljevic, Huddleston and freshman Kristin Bailey each had two.
Tyler had 12 team blocks to Northwest’s seven.
Friday’s match against Western Nebraska was the Trappers’ poorest showing of the tourney. The No. 3 Cougars swept Northwest 25-20, 9-25, 25-22.
Only Jakovljevic, with nine kills, an ace and three block assists totaled more than 10 points. Sloan scored 7.5 points with five kills, five block assists and one solo block.
Huddleston led the team in digs with 12, followed by Jakovljevic’s 11, and Brooks’ 10.
The loss sent Northwest to the seventh-place match, where they met the fourth-ranked Iowa Western Reivers.
The Trappers fell into a quick 0-2 hole but took the third set 25-23.
Northwest fell behind 15-7 in the fourth set but scored seven straight points to cut Iowa’s lead to one. The Trappers put up a tough fight but were never able to tie the Reivers and fell 25-23 in their final set of 2013.
Horstmann led the team with 11 kills and five errors on 27 attempts.
Heble had 40 assists, one kill, six digs and four block assists.
Brooks had seven digs and four service aces.
Huddleston recorded seven kills and five errors on a team-high 38 attempts. She also led with 12 digs.
Sloan was second for the Trappers in points with seven kills, four block assists and one solo block.
Pohlman said the success of this season should translate into more success in the future.
“The experience for these freshmen, the experience for the sophomores to be able to take to the next college and be able to put on their resumes ... I think it’s great,” Pohlman said.
Both Biglow and Huddleston already have their eyes set on next season.
“We stayed to watch the championship game and it made us hungry for next year,” Huddleston said.
“We all have our eyes on the prize and we all plan to work hard in the offseason,” said Biglow, who hopes the experience gained at nationals will rub off on incoming freshmen. “Once they see how much fight we’re willing to put into it they’ll see it and follow suit.”
The Trappers have five graduating sophomores and eight freshmen expected to return next season.
“We have a lot of winners in our program,” Pohlman said. “This should be a pretty fruitful next season.”
“People should be prepared for us to come back harder and stronger,” Huddleston said.
Jakovljevic was the only Trapper to be named to the 12-player All-Tournament team.
Northwest was one of only five teams to make the tournament after being unranked in the final regular season poll, and one of only four teams to receive zero votes in the poll. The Trappers were the lowest-seeded team to advance to the quarterfinals.
No. 1 Blinn College (Brenham, Texas,) beat No. 2 Tyler (Tyler, Texas,) four sets to one to claim the national title.