Pioneers WVB end season
DUNBAR, Wis. - A week ago, the Lady Pioneers from Northland International University were ready to enter the Midwest Regional volleyball championship.
They were seeded No. 3 and had just cracked the top ten of the NCCAA Division 2 rankings. The Pioneers came in with a 20-7 record and were playing very well with every player understanding their role and responsibility.
The team then had a starting player decide on not playing anymore which forced Coach Dave Herron to make an adjustment.
"Success in the game is so dependent on rhythm and flow," Herron said. "This decision kind of forced some adjustment that hurt a little. The rest of the team responded well but we got a little out of flow."
Midwest Regional was hosted at Moody Bible in Chicago and had NIU playing against Grace Bible College. This was a match that most felt the Pioneers "should" win.
With a change in the lineup that would be needed if the team advanced, the Lady Pioneers took on the Tigers. NI controlled play and took the first two sets 25-17 and 25-19. GBC came out in set three and looked resolved to not have their season end. A close score was had with an 8-8, 12-12, 15-15 and 19-19 tie. At 23-23, NI missed a serve, a hitting error and a shanked pass that gave GBC a 26-24 win.
Set four had Coach Herron challenge the team before taking the floor to "step-up." The team responded and took an 18-10 lead that was increased to 22-18 and saw NI take the match at 25-18.
For the match, Valerie Stauff had 10 kills and Marissa Hawley had 15. Olivia Smith had 33 assists and Hannah Cole had 3 aces along with 12 digs. Liz Humberg, in her new role as libero, had 13 digs and passed at 89 percent on serve receive.
The next match would be the semifinals against the No. 2 team in the tournament, Lincoln Christian University (LCU). The Red Lions were the No. 4 ranked team in NCCAA Division 2.
From the beginning, it was a "roller coaster of inconsistency" for the NI team and Coach Herron commented "LCU was the ride operator. They did whatever to and with us and exposed our lack of experience and ability to deal with their controlling defense and up-tempo offense."
Coach Herron and the team could not solve the issue and the scores for the lopsided match were 11-25, 18-25, 12-25.
The last match of the weekend would have NI in the third-place match against the host Archers from MBI. NI appeared motivated but the MBI team was out to disprove the No. 3 seed for NI that they wanted coming in.
Set one was close up to a 9-9 tie. NI got into a rotation they could not get out of and lost 5 straight points and got behind 9-14. MBI held the difference and won the first set 25-19.
Set two had NI get behind again at 12-15 with a series of ball handling errors and tough sets for the Pioneer hitters.
"We had a couple of rotations where we could not match up with our adjusted lineup and could not side-out," Herron said. "We would get one point and they would get four or five. The effort was there but we could not execute and score,"
NI got a brief set-three leads at 9-6 and 12-7. MBI rallied back to a 13-15 score with NI serving to extend the lead. NI missed the serve and then could not stop the Archer offense and MBI took a 18-13 lead which they finished out to a 25-22 score for the match.
"In a playoff situation, only one team gets to leave the gym winning," Herron said. "All other teams go out a non-winner. The last two matches were not indicative of the season for NI.
"They had a strong, successful season and had to deal with an ending they were not prepared for."
Marissa Hawley was named to the Midwest Region team. Hanna Cole and Elizabeth Humberg made the all-tournament team.
Herron summed up, "We have athletes that like to play volleyball, what we need is volleyball players that love to improve. If we can get all our eligible players to return and add some strength we might contend. I am thankful to God for this group and the success He allowed."