Northwest Volleyball Team Earns Trip To National Tourney
A triumphant Northwest Trapper volleyball team returned to Powell on Saturday as Region 9 North champions. The win qualified the Trappers for next week’s NJCAA Division National Tournament in Casper.
NWC’s win didn’t come easily, though. For a while on Saturday, the Trappers appeared in danger of being eliminated by a determined Laramie County Community College team.
Northwest beat LCCC in Friday’s semifinal match, but wound up having to face the Golden Eagles again in Saturday’s final. LCCC took a 3-1 win over Northwest in the rematch to force a decisive extra game. The Golden Eagles led that match 2-1 before the Trappers surged back to win set four and the tie-breaker for the championship — 16-25, 25-23, 18-25, 25-13, 15-12.
“Talk about taking it down to the wire,” said NWC coach Shaun Pohlman of his team’s comeback from near defeat. “We couldn’t have waited any longer to start playing our game.”
Reaching that last match wasn’t an easy task, despite NWC’s first-round bye as the top seed. First they needed to defeat fourth seeded Western Wyoming, and the Mustangs had other plans. The Trappers took set one, 25-23, but Western won sets two and three: 25-23 and 25-22. Trailing 2-1, the Trappers broke the pattern and an 8-8 in set four with a 12-4 run. The Mustangs attempted a comeback, but the Trappers stayed alive with a 25-18 win.
In the crucial fifth set, the Mustangs and Trappers battled point for point. NWC led by as many as five points before Western closed the margin to 14-12. Finally, a hit by Mikayla Sellers-Wiebe wasn’t returned and the Trappers escaped.
Seven Trappers scored kills in the match, led by Lauga Gauta’s 28. Sellers- Wiebe accounted for 12 and Lauryn Dela Cruz 10. Gauta and Dela Cruz led in digs with 16 and 15, respectively, and Reilly Baty and Alye Wagner each made 10. Gauta added a solo block and two assists. Jarvis assisted with five blocks, and Jelena Slijepcevic, Sellers-Wiebe and Aleksandra Saric each assisted one block.
The Trappers went on to defeat Laramie County in straight sets, but not without drama. NWC used a late 11-4 run to win set one, 25-18.
The next two sets were much closer. The Trappers went up 13-9 in the second set, but the Eagles recovered to lead 24-22. With their back to the wall, the Trappers’ offense produced kills by Sellers-Wiebe and Dela Cruz to tie the score at 24. The Eagles grabbed two more chances at set points, but the Trappers responded both times. Finally, a Sellers-Wiebe kill followed by a Dela Cruz service ace ended the set. 29-27.
Northwest led most of the way in set three, although the Eagles did take a brief lead and tied the score five times, the last at 20 20. The Trappers held on, though, taking the set, 25-22, and the match on a kill from Sellers-Wiebe.
Gauta’s 16 kills led the Trappers. Dela Cruz and Sellers-Wiebe were also in double figures with 12 and 11 respectively. Slijepcevic was credited with 46 assists and Dela Cruz was in double figures in digs with 13.
Despite the sweep, the close scores were a harbinger of trouble looming for the Trappers on Saturday when the Golden Eagles — fresh from a win over Western Wyoming — returned for another shot at the Trappers.
The match began auspiciously for the Trappers, who took control of set one early. They held on to win 25-20, capped by a block by Holly Pittman and Slijepcevic of a Laramie County attack.
Laramie County’s late-game surge in set one continued into the next set. They began an aggressive attack just as the Northwest attack seemed to disappear, plagued by service errors, bad passes and blocks that fell barely out of bounds. LCCC won 25-15.
With the match tied 1-1, Northwest held leads of as many as five points in set three and the score was tied eight times. However, the Eagles broke out of a 22-all tie to win 25-22.
The Trappers led 22-20 late in set four, but the Eagles again made a late rally, scoring five straight points to take the match, 20 25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-22. The loss meant Northwest had to play again.
Dela Cruz led the team in both kills and digs, recording 15 of each. Gauta also had a double-double, recording 10 kills and 10 digs. As a team, they were credited with 22 block assists. Pittman led with six and made a solo block as well. Jarvis also had a solo block as well as five assists and Sellers- Wiebe also recorded five. Slijepcevic assisted 25 times and Maliyah Tela came in to record 10.
THE DECISIVE THIRD MATCH
When NWC took the court for the second match, they met a Laramie County team hyped up to compete and backed by loud encouragement from their crowd. The early result was a disaster for the Trappers. Nothing seemed to break Northwest’s way and LCCC steadily built a lead en route to a 25-16 win, leaving the Trappers looking confused and dispirited.
“I tried everything to help them,” Pohlman said. “Nothing was going right.”
At first, Laramie County seemed destined to win set two as they continued to pressure the Trappers and establish a lead. But down 16-10, the Trappers began clawing their way back. Gauta’s kill for a point put the serve into the hands of Kelsey Marchant, and after Gauta’s return closed the gap to 16-12, she served an ace to cut it further. A block by Pittman and Saric cut the lead to two. Moments later, a Tela serve resulted in a long rally marked by athletic moves by both teams before Pittman delivered the winner. Tela’s next serve was an ace and the Trappers trailed by one. The Eagles rebuilt a three-point lead, but Gauta scored from the backcourt to win the serve back, and a block by Pittman followed by a Dela Cruz tip tied the score at 20. A block by Dela Cruz later gave the Trappers their first lead, 22-21. Pittman then served an ace and Jarvis recorded the next two points with a kill and a block for a 25-23 win.
Laramie County wasn’t done, though, and took set three, 25-18, to put NWC on the brink of elimination.
At that point, Pohlman decided he had done everything he could, even taking an intentional yellow card for delay of the match in an attempt to slow things down. But he still believed the team had a chance.
“I knew that if we could just get two sets, we’d be all right,” Pohlman said. “I didn’t believe they would lose the fifth set.”
So he told the team it was all up to them.
“I told them I didn’t have anything left to try,” Pohlman said. “I said, ‘It’s up to you, up to the team.’ I made sure I said nothing negative. I just told them to keep fighting, keep trying.”
The Trappers responded. They won the first two points and never trailed, rolling to a 25-13 win and forcing the fifth set. It also cost Laramie County some of their momentum, but even so, set five was tied at 9-all before the Trappers won four straight points.
The Eagles rallied to make it 13-11, but Northwest scored point 14 on a quick set to Jarvis for a kill, and won match point on another smash by Gauta, bringing 18 young women together in a giant hug.
Pohlman said he had anticipated a high level of competition during the weekend.
“I knew at the beginning of the season that nothing was going to be easy in any way,” he said. “The teams have gotten better this year. Every team brought everything they had to the tournament,”
He added that the win — NWC’s fourth Region 9 North championship in a row — was not just about the tournament.
“We didn’t win it this weekend. Our success comes from every player, regardless of playing time, for their belief and buy-in of the system, of their trust in me as a coach and their belief in themselves and their teammates,” he said.
The win qualifies the Trappers for the National Division NJCAA Tournament Nov. 17-20 in Casper.