SIOUX CITY | Just like Beth Donnelly predicted, Morningside College’s volleyball team came out with fire in their eyes Thursday night.
Needing to win to keep their hopes of qualifying for Friday’s First Round, the hosts of the NAIA Volleyball National Championships did their part following a 25-22, 25-13, 25-20 Pool H sweep over Tabor Thursday night.
Brittni Olson led a balanced Morningside attack with 10 kills. Krista Zenk added nine kills for the Mustangs while Emma Gruber and Jenn Buyert finished with eight and seven kills, respectively, for a determined team which was definitely ready to play.
“We are handling emotions a lot better,” said Donnelly. “When the pressure is on, we are walking into the next point with a little bit of anger, maybe, but definitely with some aggression. Even though we’re not completely forgetting the point, we’re moving on from it. It shows a lot of maturity for this team. We have five seniors out there, but some of our clutch kids are sophomores and freshmen.”
“Man, there are so many emotions going on right now,” said Buyert. “This is so exciting for our team. We’ve been waiting for this and we’ve been fighting for this. This is so exciting.”
Setter Callie Alberico dished 31 assists while adding 13 digs and two block assists for Morningside (20-13), which for the first time in six national appearances for the volleyball program, won two pool play matches. Nikki Oberfoell had a team-high 19 digs for a squad which, after their biggest win of the season, then had to wait to see if it actually reached the final round of 16 teams.
Everything was dependent on the Pool H final between No. 9 Grand View and No. 8 Columbia.
Morningside had opened the tournament with a 3-0 upset over Columbia on Tuesday, but fell in four games to Grand View Wednesday. Grand View captured the Pool with a 3-0 mark after Thursday's four-set win over Columbia which allowed the Mustangs to advance to Friday as the Pool runner-up.
Morningside will face Park in a rematch of a pool play match from a year ago, won by the hosts, in a Round of 16 match at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
Donnelly’s squad wasn’t thinking tiebreakers as they proceeded towards success and going places where no other Morningside team has gone. Zenk, a 6-foot freshman outside hitter, snapped a 22-22 Game 1 tie with a kill, Gerber followed with a kill while a Tabor hitting error closed the set.
Another key to the Mustangs’ win was their 15 total blocks. Gerber led the way with five block assists while Buyert added one solo and one assist. Coming through with two block assists each were Alberico, Olson and Zenk.
Olson, a 6-foot-1 sophomore and former Sergeant Bluff-Luton standout, had combined with Gruber on two consecutive blocks that produced a 10-6 Game 2 lead. From there, Morningside went on to post its most decisive game victory in the last three days.
“We work on blocking all the time, being strong, seal and press when the defense goes around us,” said Olson. “It’s something I enjoy. I know for everyone else, blocks are huge when we get them.”
“Brittni Olson from Sergeant Bluff is just scary,” said Donnelly. “We deliberately matched her up with their best outside (Amy Horner) and I told her, let’s see how many records you can break tonight. She eyeballed me and said, ‘All right. Challenge accepted.’ She is that kind of a kid. You put something in front of her and say go get it and she’s going to go.”
Olson’s kill around Horner’s block attempt launched a streak of three straight points as Morningside began its rally from a 15-13 deficit. Two straight Zenk kills produced a 16-15 lead and from there, the tournament hosts never trailed.
Buyert, a 6-3 senior outside hitter from Sioux Center, Iowa, said the Mustangs were motivated, not only from Wednesday night’s loss but the tournament experience of the previous year.
“That was definitely a big motivation in our heads thinking that we’re not going to let what happened to us last year happen again,” she said. “That was a little fire under us to get us going and to have us win this last match.”
Horner paced Tabor (28-12) with 14 kills while Megan Voth dished 20 assists. Ali Jost had 17 digs.