SIOUX CITY – Sooner, if not, then later …
If the pre-tourney hype follows the form sheet, the “Iowa girls’’ will square off with the “international team’’ in a classic demonstration of NAIA volleyball passion and tradition.
Barring upsets, No. 1-ranked Grand View University of Des Moines and second-ranked Park University from the well-situated Kansas City (Mo.) suburb of Parkville, just south of Kansas City International Airport, appear destined to play for the NAIA volleyball national championship.
The title match in the 38th championship gathering of NAIA elite will be Saturday night at the Tyson Events Center here in Our Town, but the two top seeds are far from guaranteed.
Grand View, the lone unbeaten in the 32-team field, improved to 34-0 with swift Tuesday and Wednesday pool victories.
Park, meanwhile, put the brakes on home-standing Morningside, with a swift three-game opening pool sweep Tuesday and won again Wednesday to improve to 31-1.
Park, had won 29 straight before losing to American Midwest Conference rival Columbia (Mo.), ranked third, in the league’s tournament championship match.
While the Grand View roster includes players from Hawkeye State towns like Iowa Falls, Ankeny, Floyd, Amana, Braddyville, West Branch, Mount Vernon and Decorah, Park features superb athletes from Serbia, Egypt, Italy and Brazil mega cities Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Nada Meawad, a 6-foot sophomore from Cairo, Egypt, owns a ferocious swing and has rifled nearly 350 kills and her 6-foot twin sister Noura 222.
Coach Mike Talamates was named the 2014 NAIA Coach of the Year when he guided the Pirates to an upset of Texas at Brownsville in the national title game.
That title team was sparked by sophomore Wendy Romero, who was named tourney MVP in 2014 and then NAIA national player of the year in 2016.
Meanwhile Grand View Coach Tina Carter has directed the Vikings to seven post-season national berths since becoming the school's head coach in 2011.
The Heart of America Conference school was struggling at the time and the program was further saddened with the death of a beloved coach, LeAnn Stefani, to the ravages of cancer at the age of 39 in 2008.
“Grand View honestly just wasn’t very good when I got the job, but we’ve tried to fill the roster with mainly Iowa girls and Iowa has such a great tradition of girls high school volleyball with outstanding coaches,’’ said Carter.
The Grand View coach is proud of the fact that her team is almost homegrown.
Other than Autumn Wood of LaVista, Nebraska, the roster includes all Iowans.
“I’m an Iowa girl myself and we’ve been blessed at Grand View to get these girls to Grand View,’’ said the Viking coach, in her 11th season at the school after serving as an assistant at Drake and Iowa State.
Carter is a graduate of Alden High School, which now is part of the Iowa Falls-Alden district.
After two years at North Iowa Community College in Mason City, she played two varsity seasons at NCAA Division I Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Conversely, the Midland University from Fremont (Neb.) here has a roster of all Nebraskans, save one, ironically senior Jenny Bair from Clarinda, Iowa.
Midland Coach Paul Giesselman was the NAIA national coach of the year in 2000 when he guided College of St. Mary to the semifinals of the national tourney, falling to Columbia (Mo.).
Like Park, Columbia, too, has a decided international flavor to its roster.
The school was upset by Aquinas (Mich.) in its first pool match Tuesday, but trimmed Vanquard Wednesday and is now 38-5.
Columbia has been a real gem in national tourney competition and is now 91-38.
Coach Melinda Wrye-Washington had a brilliant 748-217 career won-lost record after Wednesday action.
The team’s leading hitter is 6-1 Araidne Borges, a junior from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Players from The Netherlands, Columbia (the country) and the Domincan Republic also dot the roster, including three others in addition to Borges, from Brazil.
#The University of Providence, making its first national tourney appearance, might be better known to NAIA fans in all sports, especially wrestling as the University of Great Falls.
The Montana school officially changed its name to the U. of Providence summer before last.
The school maintains a women’s wrestling program where Rock Valley High School grad Eric Van Kley founded the men’s wrestling program in 2004.
Van Kley, now the wrestling coach and athletic director at Central College in Pella, was also the AD briefly at Great Falls before taking the Central helm in 2006.
Two Great Plains Athletic Conference schools maintain women’s wrestling programs – Jamestown and Midland.
The Providence Argonauts dropped an early season volleyball sweep to Northwestern.
#Relatively youthful coaches are, shall we say, serving NAIA women’s volleyball quite well.
Nine of the 32 coaches in the tourney field have won from 300 to 400 or more matches, but Oklahoma City’s Santiago Restrepo was denied his 400th win in a loss to Lindsey Wilson Tuesday and College of Idaho’s Liz Mendiola earned her 400th with a Tuesday pool win over Providence (Mont.).
Wrye-Washington (748) and St. Xavier’s Bob Heersema (718) were the runaway win leaders going into Wednesday.
#While the Grand View women’s team overflows with Iowans, the school’s reigning NAIA national men’s championship squad is extremely international in design.
Players from Cuba, Brazil, Guam and Puerto Rico played prominent roles for the Vikings in their run to the national title in the spring of 2018.