Southwestern’s volleyball team seemed to gain a burst of energy from the new lime green uniforms unveiled by coach Melissa Blessington just before Tuesday’s home regional tournament match.
A team that was already riding a 10-match winning streak seemed to step it up another notch in disposing of Northeast Nebraska Community College in 56 minutes, 25-9, 25-15, 25-17.
“We hadn’t lost in like a month,” Blessington said. “I just thought the girls needed something to get excited about, and we hadn’t gotten any new uniforms in such a long time. This team played us really close, 26-24 in the first game, the last time we played them and I wanted us to come out ready to play.”
Apparently, it worked.
“We’ve been taking care of business, but we played extremely well tonight,” said sophomore libero Molly Schimp. “We were excited.”
The win propels Southwestern (33-9) to the Region XI-B finals at 2 p.m. Saturday against eighth-ranked Kirkwood (32-7). The Eagles swept Marshalltown Community College Tuesday, 25-16, 25-19, 25-18.
Outside hitter Jenna Casey sat out Tuesday with injury, but the Spartans were still dominant as Janaya Fox slammed 19 kills for the Spartans. She closed the first set with 10 straight service points.
Cassidy Yong had 37 setting assists in three sets, as well as some well-timed dumps into openings in the Hawks’ court. She also served 16-of-16 with two aces. Ashley Strong led an active Spartan defense with 17 digs.
“I’m excited about how the team played tonight,” Blessington said. “We came out and set the tone that we wanted the win. Our girls have worked so hard, and have done some incredible things and yet they know there is still a lot of work to do.”
Kirkwood was the region’s co-leader with 13th-ranked DMACC and defeated SWCC 3-1 early in the season. However, Fox was not with the Spartans at that point, and has gradually become more of a force at the net. The mix of sophomores and freshmen has also improved during the recent winning streak.
“We are a completely different team,” Schimp said. “We’ve just been working together more. Kirkwood has some good hitters, a good right side hitter and a lot of back row attacks. But honestly, coming into this they are going to think they can beat us. We come in as the underdog. But I really think we’re going to walk out of there a winner.”
Schimp was a 5-year-old kindergarten student the last time SWCC went to volleyball nationals in 1999.
Blessington is cautiously confident as well.
“I think we have a good chance,” Blessington said. “We have to play a very good match to get to nationals. It’s going to take three solid days of practice to get ourselves ready for this match.”
Southwestern hasn’t lost a set since losing to No. 2-ranked Parkland Community College (45-2) at the DMACC Invitational Oct. 12.
The Spartans face Kirkwood at Iowa Central at 2 p.m Saturday, after DMACC and Iowa Central meet at noon for the XI-A national berth.
Blessington was a player for former SWCC coach Rita Schroeder in 2000 when the Spartans failed to qualify for nationals two years in a row, losing by two points in the fifth set of the regional final. That was when only one team advanced from Region XI, before the league was split into two brackets for national qualifying.
The opponent that night in 2000? Kirkwood.
Schroeder was courtside for Tuesday’s match, and plans to attend Saturday’s competition. Blessington is eager about this year’s opportunity.
“I’m excited, and nervous,” she said. “I think it will be a good match.”
SWCC 3, NE Nebraska 0
Attacks (kills) — Janaya Fox 19, Mel Mangrum 8, Alex Duffy 8, Shelby Sullivan 7, Allyson Kocour 6.
Blocks — Duffy 2.
Serving (aces) — Cassidy Yong 16-16 (2).
Setting (assists) — C. Yong 37, Shelby Sullivan 5.
Digs — Ashley Strong 17, C. Yong 12, Fox 12.