Just a few volleys short
Getting there was all the fun for Trinity Christian College’s volleyball team as far as the NAIA Championship Tournament was concerned.
The Trolls took their second and third foes to the limit, but dropped all three matches in Sioux City, Iowa. They opened with a three-set loss to Concordia (Calif.), the defending NAIA champion.
The 25-11, 26-24, 25-21 margin was hopeful in one respect: Trinity played the champs evenly in the second set, leading 14-8 before the Eagles flew back and tied it at 19-all. It went to 24-all before Concordia could win two points in succession to take the set. The Eagles used the momentum to run off to a 15-6 lead in the third set and take the match.
That left the Trolls needing to double down in the next two matches, and they nearly did so. Their second-day match with 12th-ranked Georgetown (Ky.) went to a fifth set before Trinity faltered. Georgetown took a 20-25, 25-21, 23-25, 25-19, 15-10 victory with a fifth-set comeback from a 5-2 deficit.
The final day brought the Trolls nose-to-nose with 13th-ranked Park (Mo.), and again it went to the wire. Park prevailed 18-25, 25-12, 24-26, 25-21, 15-10. Trinity won the first set for the second straight match, but saw its foe roar back to even things, and from there it was a matter of a few points that made the difference.
The fifth set was tied 8-8 — as was the fifth set of the Georgetown match — before Park went on a four-point tear to take the lead for good.
“Frustrating,” Trolls coach Bill Schepel said of the outcomes.
Part of it might have been the seeding. Despite running through the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference with only one defeat and carrying a 37-7 record into the tournament — Trinity finished 37-10 — the Trolls were ranked 23rd among the 24 teams that arrived in Sioux City.
That seemed low, but Schepel suspected why it happened.
“We’re still a relative unknown,” he said. “I got some good comments from other coaches there, and [I] hope this season will help. But it would have helped more to win a match or two as well.”
Still, Schepel is justifiably proud of his players. A first trip to the NAIA is a huge achievement.
His only regret is that players eventually graduate. He’ll be losing seniors Jessica Wiltjer (the CCAC’s Player of the Year), Kaitlin Feddema (first-team All-CCAC), Kirsten Harms (second-team All-CCAC) and Ellie Raebel from this year’s squad.
“We knew if we were going to make some noise, it was going to be this year,” Schapel said. “Our players set some specific goals — to win the conference and to get to the NAIA Championship — and they achieved them.”
Now, Schepel has to rebuild around set-up specialist Erynn Schuh, who’ll be a senior next year. He’s already sifting through inquiries from across the country for his next recruiting class — this year’s came from points including Michigan, Florida, Texas and Washington.
Texas-Brownsville won the NAIA title, defeating Biola (Calif.), in three sets.
• Record: 37-10 overall, 17-1 CCAC, 13-0 home, 9-1 away, 15-9 neutral. Leaders: Kaitlin Feddema 459 kills; Erynn Schuh 45 aces, 10.1 sets per game; Ellie Raebel 626 digs; Jessica Wiltjer 186 blocks.
One up, one down, and that was it.
Trinity needed more than a 1-1 record in its bracket of the National Christian College Athletic Association Championship to advance to the next stage. An opening 3-1 victory over Houghton (N.Y.) was followed by a 3-0 loss to NCAA Division II power Azusa Pacific (Calif.), however, and gave the Trolls an earlier-than-desired exit from the warmth of Kissimmee, Fla.
The Cougars dominated the elimination match, outshooting Trinity 23-3, with Katelyn Rogers tallying 15:16 into the contest and then taking a 2-0 lead on Alyx Williams’ marker at 23:38. Azusa wrapped up the scoring with Allyn Brown’s goal 2:13 into the second half.
Goalkeeper Becky Gold, the Trolls’ rock all season, did all she could by making seven saves, but the Cougars’ firepower was just too much.
Azusa goalkeeper Sarah Klinkenberg needed to stop only one on-target Trinity shot, by Becka Gonzales, to earn her shutout. The Trolls’ other shots came from Abby McDonald and Amy Tadla. Rachael Webb, Trinity’s leading scorer, was completely shut down by the Cougars’ tight defense.
The NCCAA opener against Houghton was a completely different story. Kayla Diemer scored late in the first half to give the Trolls the lead, and subsequent goals by McDonald and Samantha Burgess in the 53rd and 74th minutes, respectively, made the margin comfortable.
Gold recorded nine saves, the only Houghton shot to elude her being an unassisted tally by Amanda Zacchigna with 1:48 left in the contest. Then came the onslaught by Azusa Pacific, which will be eligible for NCAA Division II playoff activity next year.
Trinity finished with a sparkling 16-4-2 record, and Gonzales and Gold are expected to be the only key losses over the summer. They’ll both be graduating. Diemer and McDonald played important roles as freshmen, while Webb will be entering her senior year.
• Record: 16-4-2 overall, 9-1-1 CCAC, 9-2-1 home, 6-1-1 away, 1-1 neutral. Leaders: Rachael Webb 17 goals, 8 assists, 42 points; Becky Gold 1.96 goals-against average, .837 save percentage (103 saves, 20 goals against, 7 shutouts).
A few days of practice were exactly what the Trolls needed.
In their only game of last week, they took out their frustration over suffering eight losses in the season’s first 10 contests by registering a 73-45 victory over Trinity International University in Deerfield. It was 9-0 before the Trojans knew what hit them, and 41-22 at the half.
The rare laugher for the Trolls featured 22 points and eight rebounds by Caitlin Cody, 17 points and six boards for Brooke Bambrick, and a 24-of-27 team reading from the free-throw line.
• Record: 3-8 overall, 1-2 CCAC, 1-3 home, 2-4 away, 0-1 neutral. Leaders: Caitlin Cody 11.2 ppg., 7.2 rpg, 7 blocks; Allie Paluchniak 23 assists; Rebecca DeHaan 18 steals; Brooke Bambrick, 7 blocks.
• Schedule: Saturday, at Goshen, noon CT; Tuesday, at Cardinal Stritch University, 5:30 p.m.; Dec. 19, vs. Judson University, 1 p.m.; Dec. 30, vs. Spring Arbor at Indiana Tech, 4:30 p.m. CT; Dec. 31, vs. University of St. Francis (Ind.) at Indiana Tech, 1 p.m. CT.
A 1-1 record last week included a nonconference road victory over Viterbo in La Crosse, Wis., and a double-overtime defeat in CCAC play at Trinity International.
The 104-98 league loss had plenty of dramatic moments, including Trolls freshman Joe Hehir hitting a 3-pointer to force the initial overtime. Trinity had trailed throughout the first half, taking the lead for the first time early in the second half on a Jake Van Den Berg 3-pointer.
The game was afoot, and continued in frantic fashion for most of the next 30 minutes. It was 73-all at the end of regulation and 86-all after the first five-minute overtime. The Trojans outscored the Trolls 18-12 in the second extra session to escape with a victory and send the Trinity Christian to its ninth loss in 12 starts this season.
The Trolls shot 46 percent, better than Trinity International’s 39 percent, and also had a better free-throw percentage, but the Trojans pulled down 11 more rebounds.
The win over Viterbo was a come-from-behind affair. Trinity trailed 19-10 in the first half, but Jared Jones — who paced the Trolls with 18 points — warmed up and led a charge that saw him tie the game at 30-all on a 3-pointer, then hit another from beyond the arc for a 33-30 lead.
The game was back-and-forth from that juncture, until Trinity broke a 61-all deadlock with a seven-point surge. Evan Pratt scored five points and Hehir added a pair of free throws for a margin the V-Hawks managed to trim, but not eliminate.
Jones’ five 3-pointers helped the Trolls fashion a 9-of-21 mark from long distance and shoot 50 percent from the floor overall.
• Record: 3-9 overall, 0-3 CCAC, 2-2 home, 1-4 away, 0-3 neutral. Leaders: Jared Jones 14.3 ppg; Ezekiel Odonkor 8.6 rpg; Jones 36 assists; Cody Rhorer 11 steals; Odonkor 15 blocks.
• Schedule: Saturday, at Indiana-Northwest, 3 p.m.; Tuesday, at Cardinal Stritch, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 19, vs. Judson, 3 p.m.; Dec. 31, at Lewis (exhibition), 1 p.m.; Jan. 2, at Benedictine-Springfield, 7 p.m.