SIOUX CITY -- On paper, this was a titanic battle between two of the nation’s hardest hitting squads.

Great Plains Athletic Conference champion and fifth-seeded Dordt entered Friday night’s quarterfinal match at the NAIA Volleyball Championship fifth in the nation with an average of 13.8 kills per game. No. 3 Columbia, third in the American Midwest Conference behind No. 2 Park and No. 4 Missouri Baptist, was the nation’s leader in kill efficiency (.308).

Dordt hit .404 in a Game 1 25-20 victory and shined with its balanced attack, which was able to hit around the Cougars’ block. However, after hitting just .156 in the first set, Columbia roared back with balanced offense of its own.

Maria Sandoval, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter and native of Cali, Colombia, had 14 kills for Columbia, which bounced back to win the final three sets by scores of 25-22, 25-15 and 25-17. Six-foot outside hitter Caroline Clifford added 12 kills for the Cougars of Coach Melinda Wrye-Washington, who will take a 41-4 record into Saturday morning’s 11 o’clock semifinal against No. 7 Viterbo (33-7), which handed No. 1 Grand View its first loss in 37 matches, winning an intense four-game match.

“We don’t train hitting,” said Clifford. “We train passing and serving. If we pass and serve, hitting comes naturally. I think it’s funny when I hear people say we bomb balls. We don’t focus on that. If you can pass and hit, then you can bomb balls.”

Ariadne Borges and Barbara Sabino (a 6-2 middle hitter from Sao Paolo, Brazil) each added eight kills for Columbia, a tradition-rich program which has reached the NAIA nationals 25 straight years. It’s the program’s first semifinal since 2015, the year it swept Viterbo in the finals to pick up its fourth national title.

Meanwhile, a streak of two straight berths in the NAIA Finals came to an end for the Great Plains Athletic Conference-champion Dordt (31-3), which had entered its fifth match in the national tournament series against Columbia with a 25-match winning streak. By the way, Columbia leads that series, 4-1.

“I think Columbia continued to run their really fast-tempo offense,” said Dordt Coach Chad Hanson. “For us, that was a bit unsettling, especially on the blocking side. We grew a bit frustrated on our back row side. I wish I could say that didn’t carry over to other areas.

“But I think it did. We got distracted from the original game plan of competing point for point. A ton of credit to Columbia. They were running fancy and tricky, zip-zip offense. I wish we had a response to it, but I love how my team responded on the whole of the match. We just kept staying together.”

Ema Altena, a two-time NAIA All-American pick, paced the GPAC regular-season and tournament champions with 18 kills. Julia Lindbergh and Ally Krommendyk each added seven kills.

Setter Jamie De Jager dished 37 kills. Libero Aubrey Drake had a team-high 12 digs, three more than De Jager, who like Altena, won NAIA All-America honors in each of the previous two years.


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