WNCC takes down No. 19 NJC in five sets

Photo courtesy of Sara Klein
Photo courtesy of Sara Klein

                STERLING, Colo. – The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team put together a solid outing in topping No. 19 Northeastern Junior College in five sets 26-24, 20-25, 25-20, 21-25, 15-11 in a Region IX South conference contest in Sterling, Colorado, Friday evening.

                The win moves the Cougars to 18-7 on the season but more importantly they go to 4-1 in conference play and tied with Otero in conference standings. Otero and WNCC will meet Thursday night at Cougar Palace at 6 p.m.

                Friday night, though, saw plenty of fire from a Cougar team that wanted to make a statement. The first set win 26-24 gave the Cougars the momentum that they needed.

                "Tonight was a huge win for us and huge advantage," Sarena Bartley said. "We played great. That first set gave us a rush and I wanted for us to push and to succeed."

                The Cougars succeeded in getting a win against a ranked opponent in what is a typical WNCC and NJC battle. WNCC played inspired to get their 18th win of the season.

                "I thought that the team played very well tonight even though we didn't have four of our girls. We played for each other," sophomore Enna Masaki said. "All we had was each other in the gym; everyone else was for the opponent. We had faith in each and every one of us and we believed that. It didn't matter what the rankings was, it didn't matter how other looked at us, it's how we came out tonight with a bang and no one probably expected us to win."

                Inspired they were and it took plenty of heart to face an NJC team that has had big wins this season, including beating Otero last weekend on the Rattlers home court, while WNCC fell to the Rattlers. The key to the victory, according to Bartley and Masaki was believing in themselves.

                "The key for the win was to play hard, to play our game, and do not focus on what the crowd was saying to us or how good the other team was," they said. "Don't get me wrong, they played great and they are a tough team. It was just who came out tonight and I thought we played well, had chemistry, and played with our hearts. We came to do what we needed to do."

                After WNCC won the first set, NJC captured the second set 25-20. The third set saw WNCC jump out to a 5-0 lead behind four Ana Costas service points and they led 10-5 at one time. Both teams were knotted at 14-14 only to watch WNCC go back in front 19-16 and then 21-17 before winning 25-20.

                The fourth set was back and forth as well. WNCC led 14-13 before falling behind 21-18. NJC won the fourth, 25-21, setting up a fifth set.

                WNCC led the fifth from start to finish, starting with a 2-0 lead behind two Logan Belford points. WNCC led 8-4 behind a Kaile Tuisamatatele point and kill. NJC came back to tie things up at 8. Amryi-Grace Paris stopped the Mackenzie Wells service run with a kill and then Jayme Commins had a pointfor a 10-8 lead. The contest was closer at 12-11 before Masaki served the final two points for the 15-11 win.

                Four Cougars had double figure kills. Masaki and Leslie Mamai-Lagafuaina each had 13 kills while Tuisamatatele tallied 12 and Bartley had 10. Paris also had eight kills and three solo blocks. Mamai-Lagafuaina had six solo blocks.

                Also for the Cougars, Commins finished with 39 set assists with six digs; Masaki had 17 digs; Costas had 24 digs; and Belford had four digs.

                WNCC will be at home next weekend for three straight matches, opening with Otero on Thursday in PAWZitivity Pink night for breast cancer awareness, followed by Lamar Community College on Friday and Trinidad State Junior College Saturday afternoon.