Less than 12 hours after a big win put them through to the NAIA quarterfinals, the Westmont women’s volleyball team made history, defeating top-seeded Park (Mo.) for the first time in program history, outlasting the Pirates in five sets. The set scores were 25-14, 25-21, 25-27, 22-25, 15-13.
The Warriors will play Viterbo (Wis.) today at 9 a.m. with a chance to advance to their first-ever national championship game which would be played later tonight.
Westmont is 1-1 all-time against Viterbo, with the Warriors lone win against the V-Hawks coming in their most recent matchup, a three-set sweep in the first round of the 2016 NAIA National Tournament.
“It’s pretty crazy. We were picked to finish third in our conference, we barely get through to the GSAC championship, we got a tough draw in the pool play with two very good ranked teams and yet we are here,” Westmont coach Ruth McGolpin said.
“For us to even be here it feels like a fairy tale. We have put in the work but everything has gone our way and it’s a crazy feeling.”
The Warriors certainly have made a historic and unprecedented run in this particular NAIA tournament. In their journey to the final four, the Warriors have now beaten two teams that it had never defeated before in program history, Columbia (Mo.) and Park.
“I mean to sweep Columbia, which is something we have never done, and then come through the way we did against Park, again another program we have never beaten, was awesome. It feels special,” McGolpin said.
Against Park, it certainly took a special performance for the Warriors to walk away with a victory.
Junior outside hitter Hali Galloway was outstanding as she led the Warriors with 20 kills on a .386 attacking percentage while senior outside hitter Cassidy Rea added 17 and Brooklynn Cheney and Lexi Malone each totaled 12 kills.
Kendall Kenyon added eight kills with a team-high .533 attacking percentage.
Keelyn Kistner (34 assists, 18 digs) and Sydny Dunn (25 assists, 19 digs) each tallied impressive double-doubles to help the Warriors.
Cheney led the team with 26 digs, while Lauren Friis tallied 24. Malone’s six blocks were also a team-high.
Early on, it looked as though Westmont would cruise to the semifinals as it took a 2-0 lead. The Pirates rallied, however, and put the Warriors on the ropes when they forced a fifth set.
Park took the momentum of two-consecutive set wins to build a 4-2 lead early in the fifth set, but a 4-3 run by Westmont forced a timeout. The Warriors then took a decent lead of their own a 9-6 before being caught at 10-10.
After the two teams traded points, Westmont had match-point at 14-12. Park saved the first match point before Rea slammed the Warriors into the semifinals.
Funny enough, Rea had no idea it was match point. She thought there was still more volleyball to be played.
“It was funny because Cassidy Rea got the last kill and then she immediately turned around and cheered and said ‘alright let’s get the next one.’ It wasn’t until everyone stormed the court that she realized we had won,” McGolpin said.
Despite having played five matches in five days, McGolpin said she has been impressed with her teams’ stamina.
“Physically, we look superior. We do not look as tired as the other teams and it’s showing itself and the thing is we keep attacking players and tiring them out more and it is working,” McGolpin said.
Before defeating Park for the first time in program history, Westmont first took care of business against No. 7 seeded Eastern Oregon. The Warriors defeated the Mountaineers 25-22, 24-26, 25-19, 25-23.
The first set between the two teams was a back-and-forth battle with usually Westmont racing out in front before being caught by Eastern Oregon. Finally, at 22-22, the Warriors scored the final three points to take the game.
In the second set, it was the Mountaineers who raced out to a lead, going up 6-0 and eventually 8-1, however, the Warriors caught them to tie it at 11-11.
At one point, Westmont actually had triple-match point, 24-21, but Eastern Oregon rallied to finish the set with five unanswered.
Westmont held a 13-11 lead in the third set before going on a 6-0 run, sparked by three Eastern Oregon attacking errors and kills from three different Warriors. That was enough for Westmont to hold on and take a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set was much closer, as the two teams battled back and forth in the early going. With a slim 17-16 advantage, Westmont scored four points in a row to extend its lead to 21-16.
At 23-23, Rea clinched the match with two kills that sealed the win for the Warriors.
Against Eastern Oregon, Rea led Westmont with 20 kills and a .375 attacking percentage. Galloway was next with 13 kills, while Malone had 11. Dunn led the Warriors with 27 assists and Kistner added 26. Cheney also had 39 digs, the second most for her in a single game.
For Westmont, being in the semifinals means a lot. For a majority of the season, the Warriors always believed they were better then they were perceived, or even then they played at times.
Now, they are showing that as they are peaking at the right time and have a chance to make even more history tonight.
“This is just such a happy-go- lucky team. We had our team dinner after Park and they wanted to know if they could have appetizers and all I could say is ‘You are in the final four, you earned some appetizers,’” McGolpin said.
“They are just excited to be able to be in that moment. They love the game and we just know we have to do what we can (today).”