It was a momentous weekend for the Cougars as the team looked to compete in their first matchup of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) championship tournament play. It has been a dream season for the Saint Xavier volleyball team up to this point, as the team has broken the record for consecutive wins, won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) tournament, and qualified for nationals for the first time in 7 years.
I met up with junior Alex Lambros, and she noted to me how surreal this all feels, saying, “we had no idea leading into training camp we had no idea that we would win the CCAC tournament, let alone qualify for nationals. I don’t want to belittle us as a team, but we knew the competition we had to face in this season, and to hold our own up to this point has only added to our confidence win by win.”
I definitely back up Lambros’ sentiments in that no one including myself had expected the team to perform as amazingly as they have up to this point. Just last year the team finished the season with a subpar record. And was out of the CCAC tournament as early as the second round. To see the team come up and perform in such a big way only a year later demonstrates the importance of team chemistry and growing as a team.
A lot of the girls on the team have played with each other as long as three years now. This team has won together, lost together, bleed together, sweat together, and finally after all this time this is a team that will win the national championship together. Will they be closer to their dreams, or will their first matchup in the tournament crush the momentum of the Cougars.
Saturday, November 18 vs. Union College
The first matchup for Saint Xavier in the tournament was against Union College, a serviceable opponent for the Cougars, and a team that went 35-11 for the season. The match took place in Barbourville Kentucky with Union holding the coveted home court advantage. Playing a high stakes game ten hour away from home was sure to be a challenge for the Cougars, but we’ve seen the team overcome challenge after challenge up to this point, and who’s to say they can’t overcome another.
This set saw the Saint Xavier and Union College duke it out to the very last point as this was a pivotal set as it was a chance for either team to set the tone for the game. Late in the match, the Cougars obtained a 18-13 lead. Being up seven points must have gotten to the Cougars head as they started to slack…big time. Union College went on a 10-3 run that put them up in the game 23-21. With their backs against the walls, the Cougars were in danger of losing this pivotal first set.
Thankfully, the Cougars didn’t succumb to roar from the Union crowd as Cougars pull at a clutch four nothing run as that propelled them to the 25-23 set victory. Kate Bontrager, Rory Manion, and Bridget Krasowski all scored a kill during the 4-0 run, proving to play a pivotal part for the Cougars.
This was another barn burner of a contest as the two teams continued to do battle. Saint Xavier came out in this one hot as they came away with an 8-2 lead early. This victory was short lived though as Union College quickly came back to tie it up at 9-9. Once again, this one came down to the very wire as Union College sat at a very comfortable 24-20 lead. The team would only have to score one more point to take the set and tie up the match at one set a piece.
The Cougars had their back against the walls, and they came out swinging as they scored three points straight to bring the game to 24-23. Unfortunately, the late game surge by the Cougars would prove to be useless as Union College scored to win the set 25-23, and tie the matchup with each team holding a win.
With both teams tied at one set each, this set would be pivotal as it would give the winning team a 2-1 lead as well as give them the momentum and confidence to close out in the next set. With that being said, the Cougars were not going to allow Union College to go up a set as they came out dominating this set. The Cougars scored a total of 23 points, but most importantly, they held Union College to a measly 9 points.
In the end, The Cougars ran away with a dominate 25-11 set victory, and a 2-1 set lead in this matchup, only needing one more win to propel them to a matchup victory. It was a good thing that the Cougars won this one, because if they would have allowed Union College to go up 2-1 in front of their home town then the Cougars may have never recovered.
The fourth set was a “make or take” one. Either Saint Xavier would win and move on in the tournament, or Union College was going to win it and extend the game to five sets. The level of competitiveness in this game exemplified the high stakes as the two teams once again were battling to the very end. Union College looked poised to win as they held a 25-24 victory late, but a clutch kill by Krasowski kept the Cougars alive. Now both teams stood at 25-25 and the winning team would have to bat their opponent by two to win.
Again, both teams traded points and saw the two teams tied at 26-26. In the end, the pressure of playing in front of their home team must have been too much pressure for Union College as they made a ball handling error which cost them the game when paired with a Saint Xavier block.
Key players for this match were junior Helena Atton. Atton obtained 14 kills on top of an impressive .500 hitting percentage. Senior Bridget Krasowski also had an amazing game as she racked up a double-double behind 12 kills and 15 digs.
With this big win, the Cougars return to the final site for the first time in seventeen years. This is another impressive milestone to add to the dream season of the Cougars. The team will compete on Tuesday, November 28 at the Tyson Events Center in Iowa.
For a recap of that event and many other happenings around campus, keep it locked here at the Xavierite.