Two weeks ago, the Westmont women’s volleyball team was content being GSAC co-regular season champions, but it still had a sour taste in its mouth.
Ranked as high as No. 17 in the NAIA rankings earlier in the season, the Warriors believed they were a much better team than given credit for over the latter part of the year despite suffering some tough conference losses.
Westmont first proved that at the GSAC tournament as it beat Vanguard in five sets and sweeping top-seeded Menlo to claim the title and earn a host bid for the opening round of the NAIA Tournament.
The Warriors (27-6) then kept their hot streak going on Saturday, defeating Point University (GA.) in three sets by set scores of 25-15, 25-19, 25-17 to advance to the NAIA Final Site in Sioux City, IA. beginning on Dec. 3.
“The fact that we weren’t regular-season champs and we did have adversity though those four conference losses, but we did what we have done lately shows how we have grown,” Westmont coach Ruth McGolpin said.
“We have gotten automatic bids (to the NAIA Final Site) the last few years so I think since we had to earn it a little bit more this year, this should feel a little bit more special to them because it’s been an arduous season.”
Senior outside hitter Cassidy Rea was a constant force on Saturday. She tallied a double-double on the day with a match-high 15 kills and 13 digs. She also had a very efficient .519 hitting clip.
Making the win even more special for Rea was the fact that she got to play one more game at Murchison Gymnasium and in front of a packed crowd.
“We’ve never had an opening-round match before, at least in my past three years, so I was super nervous because if you lose you don’t go on. Playing in a game like that in front of a huge crowd, especially for me as a senior, was so special. I’m super thankful for everyone who came out like a random 2 pm game on a Saturday,” Rea said.
Rea certainly made her presence felt in the first set. Up 12-11, Rea earned a tough kill, then blocked the next shot to put her team up three. Another great pressure at the net forced an attack error on Point’s side which was then followed by back-to-back kills from Rea to put the Warriors up 17-11.
The team never looked back from there, growing its lead to as high as 10, eventually winning the first set, 25-15. Rea had six of the teams 12 kills in the first set.
In the second set, Westmont raced out to a 7-2 lead, but Point eventually kept pace trailing by one at 9-8. From there, the Skyhawks were never able to actually tie the match or take the lead. That’s because the Westmont offense caught fire.
After registering 12 kills in the first set, Westmont notched another 21 in the second set along with a .386 hitting percentage to never let Point tie the match in the second set.
Lexi Malone stepped up earning six of her eight kills while Patty Kerman had four of her six in the second set.
“It doesn’t really matter who you set, that is the awesome thing about this team. As a senior, I know how important energy is so even when we were winning I wanted to make sure we never had a lull in our energy,” Rea said.
It also helps that the Warriors have a variety of good passers in their offense. Freshman Keelyn Kistner seven of her match-high 18 assists in the second set while sophomore Syndy Dunn had seven of her 14 in the second.
In the third set, it was the Skyhawks who started quick, earning the first two points, but from there it was a Warrior show. Westmont used a 11-4 run to lead 11-6 and then scored 13 of the next 25 points to lead 24-17.
Junior outside hitter Hali Galloway ended the match with an ace serve. The ball hit the net just barley and clipped the inside of the boundary.
Galloway finished the contest with eight kills and three service aces. She said the teams’ determination over the last few weeks have been an awesome experience.
“Ever since our disappointment we really decided to turn it around and say ‘you know what, we still have control of our destiny, we still have control of our season, so let’s take control.’ And ever since then we have really taken control and it’s been great,” Galloway said.
Defensively, junior Lauren Friis was everywhere on Saturday. The libero finished with a match-high 17 digs with 10 of them coming in the third set alone.
“I kind of like to play like a dog; See ball, get ball and going all out and just trying to stay calm and consistent,” Friis said.
Standing at just 5-0, Friis said her dream was always to play college sports, however, she wasn’t always given that confidence that she could from others.
“Growing up, I was always told I was never gonna play college sports because I’m small, and so doing what I can to be the best for my team and bring that ball of energy is what I love to do,” Friis said.
Friis said she loves that she “proved people wrong,” and is so happy to be apart of the Westmont program.
“It’s really an honor and it’s really special this team chemistry that my teammates and my coaches and we all have,” Friis said.
Westmont now awaits the releasing of the groupings to see who it will take on in Pool Play, which will be played December 3-5.
Last season, the team was bounced out of the tournament in the round of 16 while the year before it lost in the quarterfinals.
Friis believes this team can go further.
“We definitely have not reached our limits yet sky’s the limit and we’re still going.”