COLUMBIA, Ky. | As far as Andy Cavins is concerned, it’s all about enjoying the journey while the current undefeated record isn't the issue.
It’s a two-day venture from South-Central Kentucky to Northwest Iowa where Cavins’ Lindsey Wilson squad has enjoyed Sioux City hospitality in each of the previous six seasons at the NAIA Volleyball National Championships.
“We want them to cherish these moments because some of them won’t be able to do this again,” said Cavins, who has coached Lindsey Wilson to a 232-34 record in his seven seasons.
“It’s going to be the last major tournament our seniors will get to play in. We’ve always enjoyed the experience. We have a fantastic sponsor in Bob Roe. I think Sioux City is an underappreciated host city. We want our younger girls to enjoy this as well and we want them to help our seniors get to their final goal.”
Lindsey Wilson risks a 28-0 record into Tuesday’s 9 a.m. Pool A match against Texas Wesleyan (27-4) at the Tyson Events Center. It’s the first-ever undefeated season as well as the first No. 1 ranking the Mid-South Conference regular-season and tournament champions have taken to Sioux City.
Cavins has guided the program to great heights as of late. Two years ago, Lindsey Wilson won a school-record 37 matches and reached the semifinals.
A year ago, the the Blue Raiders entered Sioux City with just one loss and were later ousted in the quarterfinals by Midland, one of three Great Plains Athletic Conference teams to reach the Final Four.
Ah, the GPAC, the league that includes defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Hastings (25-2). Dordt (29-6), last year’s runner-up is No. 4, while No. 5 Northwestern (28-4) is back after a two-year absence.
Cavins describes the GPAC as “unbelievably loaded.” It all begins, he said, with the quality coaching. The strong athletes, he adds, come from a quality recruiting area.
“For us, we can’t get caught up on the final prize,” said Cavins. “Being prepared for each opponent is crucial. There are strong teams from the GPAC.
“There’s also (No. 2) Viterbo and (No. 6) Westmont. Cornerstone is in our pool and has had good wins. Jamestown is in our pool and has had good wins. Every one of the teams in our pool has the ability to beat us if we don’t play to our potential. We have to make other teams beat us. We don't want to give up unforced errors. We take a lot of pride in that."
Mid-South Conference Player of the Year Makenzie Montano directs a squad that ranks second in the nation in hitting percentage (.352) and third in kills per game (14.4).
One of the squad’s six seniors, the 5-foot-11 setter is a four-year starter who as a freshman took the team to the Round of 16. The returning first-team All-American ranks seventh in the nation, averaging 11.2 assists per game.
One of the hitters she regularly feeds is a senior. Yeniffer Ramirez is a 6-3 outside hitter and native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who has 174 kills.
Paullina Sobolewska, a 5-10 freshman outside hitter from Zuromin, Poland, leads the Blue Raiders with 278 kills. Returning second-team All-American Grace Blomstedt, a 6-3 junior middle blocker from Red Oak, Iowa, has 224 kills and a team-high 96 blocks.
Six-foot sophomore right side hitter Elly Burke has 181 kills. Caitlyn Tino, a 5-4 senior, won Mid-South Libero of the Year honors for the second straight year after posting a team-best 405 digs.
Meanwhile, 5-10 senior outside hitter Lauren Streets has 196 digs, three more than Montano. Sobolewska has 40 blocks and 191 digs.
“We’ve been consistent in serve receive,” said Cavins. “That’s another way in why we have thrived. We utilize all of our offensive weapons. There’s not a ton of weaknesses. It’s reliant on us playing well as a unit and getting everyone involved.
“Even with the international kids, there’s not a huge drop-off from one to 17. This is the deepest team we’ve had. Practices have been strong. It’s been tougher to score and block in practice.”