A three-set sweep with set scores of 25-9, 25-22, 25-20 over No. 6 seed Viterbo of Wisconsin not only kept the Westmont women’s volleyball team magical run alive but it also sent the program to it’s first-ever NAIA National Championship game.
Once there, however, the Warriors ran into a tough Marian of Indiana (38-2) team who showcased itself as the better team and defeated Westmont in three sets by scores of 25-20, 25-20, 25-21.
“Obviously it’s cool that we even got there. We didn’t play a good match and Marian was a good team but we just did not play at 100 percent and it stings but a lot of the girls were already talking about next season,” Westmont coach Ruth McGolpin said.
Against Marian, Westmont hit just .158 and, despite hitting just one fewer kill (42-41), it committed five more errors. Cassidy Rea and Patty Kerman each tallied 12 kills, but no other Warrior tallied more than five.
As a team, the Knights hit .230 and also had six aces and eight blocks to help them pick up points along the way in the contest. Marian’s Sklyer Van Note tallied 20 kills for the Knights on 46 attempts without an attack error.
Coach McGolpin noted they tried to serve tough to her and throw her off but, even with a few mistakes, she played outstanding. Van Note was named the tournament MVP.
In the first set, tied at 13-13, Marian used a 7-3 run to take a commanding lead at 20-16. From there, it traded points until it won the first set 25-20.
The second game took on a similar feel with Westmont even leading early at 8-4, but Marian quickly turned that around to catch them at 10-10. From there, both sides traded points and at 22-20, the Knights scored the final three to take the set.
In the final frame, Westmont scored the first two, but after being caught at 2-2 never led again with Marian building a comfortable three-point advantage for much of the set. Down 23-19, the Warriors tried to make a comeback scoring two straight points, but the Knights got a kill to set up match point and then blocked an attempt from Rea to win the title.
“Credit to them they were tough but we did not play up to where we could. Our block wasn’t as strong and we were trying to hit high instead of low and tight and we just did not pass well at all. So it was a collective and in the end we just did not play well,” McGolpin said.
Although Saturday did not end with a championship, the foundation for the Westmont women’s volleyball program has been set.
Along with making the first championship game in program history, the Warriors were also the first team in NAIA history to be an unranked squad to make it to the final.
“These girls really set the bar high for this program and what I want it to look like,” McGolpin said.
“I mean really who expected us to be here? It’s just special.”
For McGolpin, the added bonus of being able to accomplish this in her first year shows that something special is being set in Westmont. It also helps that the Warriors only graduate one senior and will return the majority of their athletes.
A lot of the talk after the loss was even centered around what the team could do next season knowing what it takes to make a title run.
“Relationships were built and these girls genuinely care about one another and those are things that are going to last,” McGolpin said.
“Every year is different. You have no idea how everyone will mesh with the new freshman but these returners have set the base for how and what I want the program to look like and they are excited to meet the new class and get a new season going.”
Rea and freshman Lexi Malone were named to the All-Tournament Team for their contributions over the seven tournament games this week.
Rea finished second in the tournament with 107 total kills and posted a .299 attacking percentage.
Rea finishes her career with 1,301 kills, the ninth most in program history while her 276 blocks are the 10th most in team history. Her .304 attack percentage is the third-best and best among all pin position hitters.
Malone was the tournament leader in blocks with a total of 44 and she added 77 kills and posted a .281 attacking percentage.
Against Viterbo in the semifinals, the Warriors were dominant notching a team attacking percentage of .297 for the three sets while limiting the V-Hawks to just .055.
The Warriors also combined for 11 blocks in the sweep while Rea and Malone paced the offensive attack with eight kills apiece.
For McGolpin, the amount of magic in her first year is not lost on her and that is what helps ease the pain of the loss and keeps her focused on the blessing.
“Its been a journey with them. One of my favorite moments was the team retreat because it was the very first week and it was our first time to be really close and since then we have developed into a second family. It truly has been a remarkable season and even as a player in college I never went to a championship match so for these players to make it and be together, it is special,” McGolpin said.