After upsetting heavily favored Otero College in three sets to start the Region IX Volleyball Tournament last week, the Northwest College volleyball team fell back to earth, losing back-to-back, five-set battles to Western Nebraska and Western Wyoming to close out the season.
“It was a very disappointing way to go out on the season,” said Lady Trappers’ head coach Bethany Conde. “We’d seen Western Wyoming two previous times this season and won 3-1 both times. We just weren’t playing to the level we played the two previous games.”
The two losses brought an end to the NWC careers of six sophomores and marked the conclusion of Conde’s first year at the helm.
Lady Trappers 3, Otero 0
Northwest figured to have its hands full from the start, squaring off against Otero Junior College (24-7, 11-4 in conference) in the opening round of the Region IX tourney. Otero was nationally ranked at one point during the season, and figured to be a team to beat in Region IX.
But if Northwest (17-12, 8-7), was intimidated, it didn’t show, as the Lady Trappers took the match in straight sets 25-23, 25-20, 25-23.
“The whole team had a good connection, and we were focused on playing as a team,” said NWC outside hitter Andjela Bublic. “We played really smart and hard — we left it all on the court.”
Conde said it was the best the team played all season, and despite the close scores, dominated all three sets.
“Our blocking kept us in the game,” she said. “We were getting great touches to slow the ball down, and that’s huge. I didn’t have anything to say to them during timeouts, except that I was proud of them.”
Eirini Matsouka, Bublic and Shania Warren led the offense with 12, 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Jess Ruffing added five kills to go along with her 10 digs and 23 assists, while Tammy Maddock finished with four kills.
“Tonight we simply came out ready to play,” Ruffing said. “Everything we’ve been working on came together, and we were all doing our job and playing our role — and you could tell.”
Geena Graff led the team with 15 digs, followed by Matsouka with 14.
“We were the complete underdog,” Conde said. “This is a team that beat [eventual Region IX champion] LCCC twice. The fact that we came out and swept them in three was huge. I told the girls, ‘I don’t think you realize how big a win this is.’”
Western Nebraska 3, Lady Trappers 2
Wednesday’s upset win against Otero set NWC up for another contest against a Top 20 team Thursday in Western Nebraska Community College. The Lady Trappers, still riding high from the previous night’s win, took the first two sets 25-19, 25-21 and seemed poised for their second straight upset.
But the Lady Cougars (28-9, 14-3) were as good as advertised, fighting back to win three straight sets — 25-17, 25-23, 15-4 — for the win.
“We started out playing strong, but after that second set, we started playing timid,” Conde said. “We weren’t swinging; our hitting errors went up tremendously. We just kind of suddenly lost what we had going. We didn’t have that fire that we had the first two sets.”
Conde added that winning three straight sets against a talented team is difficult, but not unheard of. The Lady Trappers just didn’t capitalize on their opportunities to put their opponents away, and the first-year coach said she felt momentum shift between the second and third set.
“There’s a reason they’re ranked in the Top 20 — they know how to fight back,” she said. “They’re not going to roll over, and they didn’t. They outplayed us at the end there. They just wanted it more.”
Matsouka once again led the team in kills with 10, followed closely by Warren with nine. Matsouka and Madyson Chavez each finished with 13 digs, followed by Ruffing with 11.
Ruffing led the team with 26 assists and served four aces for the match.
Western Wyoming 3, Lady Trappers 2
Northwest squared off against a familiar foe in Friday’s loser-out match, meeting Western Wyoming for the third time this season. The Lady Trappers swept the first two matches by identical 3-1 scores, but as the adage goes, it ain’t easy beating the same team three times in a season. The Mustangs won the first set 25-14 before dropping the next two, 25-20, 29-27. Needing just one set to advance, Northwest ran out of steam, losing 25-21 and 15-9 to end the season.
“To lose against Western and get knocked out because of them was very frustrating,” Ruffing said. “They’re a team we know we should and could beat. All the things we worked on — like being mentally tough and being smart — just weren’t there.”
“We mentally dropped, and Western Wyoming stepped up their play,” Conde said. “We just didn’t have anything left at that point, which is tough, because we were playing the best we had all season to that point.”
Four Lady Trappers finished in double-digits for kills, led by Bublic with 18. Warren finished with 11 kills and Maddock and Matsouka had 10 apiece.
“This game was a tough loss,” Maddock said. “We went down to their level of play, when we could be so much more competitive. ... It’s hard to lose to a team that you have already beat twice, but they showed up to win.”
Graff led with 17 digs, followed by 13 from Matsouka and 11 from Ruffing, to go along with her 33 assists.
With the season over, Conde said the team has a lot to be proud of. The six sophomores — Maddock, Ruffing, Warren, Bublic, Demery Dean and Kailee Becking — were leaders on and off the court, and made the season a joy for the interim coach.
“I don’t think people expected us to do as well as we did,” she said. “The girls did a good job of showing up at the right time. I had great girls on the team, which made a huge difference. Everybody got along and were very supportive of each other. They were a fun group, there was never a quiet moment with them.”
For Maddock, Ruffing and the rest of the sophomores, the season began with a pact to remain together following a coaching change, and ended with each player grateful that they did.
“For me and the other sophomores, it felt like we were putting our everything into every point and every game this weekend because we didn’t know if it would be our last time in a Trapper jersey,” Maddock said. “I wish it could have ended differently, but we have had a pretty great season, exceeding a lot of expectations.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of sophomores,” Conde said. “They’re just great all-around girls. ... They’ll be missed.”