DUNBAR, Wis. - In the most recent season of college men's basketball, Wichita State was a story of perfection with a 35-0 record entering the NCAA tournament.
The men's volleyball team at Northland International University had a perfect mark as well but the numbers were switched in the win-loss columns.
The Pioneers entered 28 matches ready and eager to compete but the results were always the same.
"This past women's volleyball season we celebrated a significant 'win' milestone," said NIU Coach Dave Herron. "I guess the Lord knew I needed a good dose of humble pie, and issued me a big piece with leftovers."
While the season was challenging, Coach Herron had to work harder than in others where success was accomplished.
"To really become a team I had to do more than before," said Herron, noting the teaching of new players new skills, encouraging execution of those skills, affirming positive performance in match play and motivating players out of mediocrity toward continued improvement.
NIU actually played its best when they needed it the most.
The Pioneers came into the Wisconsin Volleyball Conference tourney last weekend as the No. 7 seed at the Dells Sport Complex.
Jordan Edgecombe and Jared Kimbrough led the team offensively at the net. Isaac Aarco was directing the offense from the setter's position. Minshik Park and Jay Hale were the most skilled performers all the way around. Ethan Miller was hands down the Pioneer best defender at the Libero position.
On Friday, NIU lost to UW-Whitewater 2-1 (20-25, 25-17,10-15) and tourney favorite UW-Oshkosh 2-0.
On Saturday, NIU started a long day with a loss against UW Milwaukee 2-1 (26-24, 15-25, 9-25).
In bracket play, Marquette downed NIU 2-0 (13-25, 14-25).
Dropped into the consolation side of the tournament, Concordia ended the NIU season with a 2-0 decision (23-25, 17-25).
Min Shik Park, one of this year's captains, summarized: "We all had to change this season. We each got better. We had to play together at the end and we did. We didn't win but we played hard and together."
Jay Hale, another senior leader, commented: "Coach Herron told us from the beginning that inconsistency comes from inexperience and inability. We knew it would be tough. But we are way better now than at the beginning of the season. It was still a good experience for me."
There was a silver lining for NIU this season. At the WVC tournament, the Pioneers received the Program of the Year Award. The administrative council of the Wisconsin Volleyball Conference gives this to the program which "displays the greatest combination of leadership, organization, integrity and excellence both on and off the court."
Sixteen programs and 27 teams are involved in conference play.