Provided by Wayland Baptist University
Their timing for breaking the school record for most wins in a season couldn't have been any better.
The Wayland Baptist volleyball team's 31st victory was historic in more ways than one as the Pioneers picked it up while notching a win in their first-ever NAIA National Championship appearance, defeating Ottawa University (Kan.) on Saturday afternoon in Hutcherson Center, 25-15, 25-15, 25-21.
"It was electric. From the first serve, the fans were completely engaged with the match, all the way to the last point," WBU coach Jim Giacomazzi said of the environment in which close to 500 Wayland supporters, having braved the icy weather, wildly cheered the Pioneers and watched them punch their ticket to Sioux City, Iowa, and the NAIA Volleyball National Championship final site. Wayland (31-6) will be one of 16 teams competing at the event set for Dec. 3-7.
"That was really exciting," Giacomazzi said of the match.
It took the Pioneers just a bit to settle their nerves as the more settled Lady Braves (20-14), who were playing an opening-round match for the second straight season, took a 9-6 lead.
"They were very nervous," Giacomazzi said of his players. "I told them if they make a mistake, and everybody's going to, just go back to basics.
"The girls got some jitters out, then we took charge of the match."
Trailing 10-7, Wayland scored eight of the next nine points – a run that saw block assists by Shahala Hawkins and Grecia Rivera, and Hawkins and Ashlyn Westerman, in addition to two kills by Rivera and one from Claire Jacobsma – to assume a 15-11 advantage. From there, the Pioneers only allowed the Lady Braves three more points to take a 1-0 set lead.
Ottawa also kept the second set close, within 13-10, until the Pioneers again pulled away. With Rivera serving, Wayland notched six of the next seven points then from there cruised to take the second set by the same score as the first, 25-15. A kill by Chelsey Driskill ended it.
"We wanted to minimize the mistakes they had. They had one or two, but it only happened once per set. We were the ones who ran away with four- and five-point swings at a time," Giacomazzi said.
Ottawa, champions of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference and winners of eight straight, didn't want to go down in three and showed it in the third set, taking a 10-5 lead.
"At one point we tried to start hitting some home runs instead of being smart," Giacomazzi said.
After a timeout by Wayland, the Pioneers again found their groove and went on another extended run, this time 10-4, to take the lead. The Lady Braves hung tough, briefly assuming the upper hand, until Wayland finished with a flourish with a 6-2 push that saw Rivera end the match on a thunderous kill down the line.
"That put an exclamation point on it," Giacomazzi said. "The girls are very tickled."
Wayland hit .190 for the match, one of its lowest percentages in a win all season, while Ottawa struggled to hit just .056.
Westerman, herself from Kansas, had a nice match for Wayland. In addition to her 30 assists, she came up with a team-high 14 digs, her third-highest dig total of the season. Libero Mercades Torres ended with a dozen digs.
"They really went after Ashlyn trying to take her out of running our offense," Giacomazzi said. "She did a great job coming up with those 14 digs."
The coach said the Lady Braves also targeted Cindy Horn and Rivera.
"The way they played today, we want everybody to serve Grecia and Cindy. It gets them moving and gets them excited," Giacomazzi said. "The offense that Ottawa ran, we knew they were going to be hitting over Cindy and Grecia a lot, and we prepared for that."
In addition to her team-high nine kills, Rivera also had a pair of block assists, and "Cindy had a very good match passing," Giacomazzi said.
Hawkins got seven kills and hit a team-best .333. while Driskill ended with eight kills and hit .294.
"She's been kind of flat the last couple of matches, but she came up with kills and a couple of blocks and had a good hitting percentage," Giacomazzi said of Driskill. "I could say the same thing about Claire," who also recorded eight kills and two blocks.
"It was really pleasing to see that nobody made mistake after mistake after mistake."
Now it's on to Sioux City where Wayland will be one of 24 teams (12 opening-round winners plus 12 teams who had byes). Participants will be divided into six four-team brackets for pool play the first three days, then the top two teams in each pool advance to single-elimination bracket play.
"The challenge we're facing right now is Thanksgiving next week," Giacomazzi said. "We'll practice Monday and Tuesday and take Wednesday and Thursday off."
The Pioneers are tentatively scheduled to leave for Iowa on Saturday.
"We'll keep working hard and doing our thing," Giacomazzi said.