SIOUX CITY – Just like their two previous meetings this season, American Midwest Conference foes Park and Columbia went five sets again.
After splitting their first two matches of the season, Park was aided this time by a season-high 36 kills and 12 digs from Nada Meawad as the second-ranked Pirates defeated No. 3 Columbia 19-25, 25-15, 17-25, 25-20, 16-14 in the championship match of the NAIA Volleyball Championship at the Tyson Events Center here Saturday.
“I still can’t believe we just pulled this off,” said Park Coach Mike Talamantes. “I have a great respect for Columbia. I think they are a great team. I knew this was going to be a war.”
Columbia won the third set to take a 2-1 lead. With Park fighting just to force a fifth set, the Cougars jumped out to an early lead in set four.
“When they were up 2-1 and they were up 12-8 in the fourth set, I don’t know how we’re standing here with a national championship,” said Talamantes. “It’s a great feeling. I just can’t believe it yet.”
Columbia led 13-10 in the fourth set, but the Pirates scored six-straight points to take a 16-13 lead and stayed in front for the rest of the set. Meawad, a 6-foot outside hitter from Cairo, Egypt, scored four of the six points, including the first three to tie the game at 13-all.
“We think she’s the best player on the court,” said Talamantes. “There are a lot of great players in the NAIA, but we think she is.”
The NAIA staff on hand agreed, awarding Meawad as the 2018 NAIA National Championship Most Valuable Player. She had just five errors on 76 attacks for a hitting percentage of .408.
“I’m so happy because we’ve been working for the national title since we got here,” said Meawad. “It’s like a dream came true. I’m so proud of my team, my coaches and to be part of this team.”
Meawad had eight kills in the fifth and final set, but she was blocked by Jordan Wolfe and Barbara Sabino of Columbia to tie the match at 13-all. Despite the error, Talamantes wasn’t changing his mind.
“We were going to go down with our best gun,” said Talamantes. “The last two balls went to her. We knew she’d get one. She got the one that mattered.”
After a Columbia kill tied the match at 14-all in the final set, Park scored on an error from the Cougars then Meawad ended things with a kill off an assist from Danna Gomes.
“I was doing what I’ve been doing the whole entire game,” said Meawad. “As I mentioned before, Columbia is a good team. So of course they’re going to block us, and we’re going to block them. We just kept doing the same thing, and we did it.”
“She rotated to the back row after that one,” said Talamantes. “So we knew that she’d have a gap block out of the back row. So we knew she could use that a little bit better. On the next play we used our middle. So we knew that they were going to shift over. Like I said, we know them really well. They’re a great blocking team, so we just guessed right on that one.”
Maren Roper finished with 11 kills for Park. Gomes dished out 63 assists and added 10 digs. Celina Monteiro recorded 23 digs. Noura Meawad notched 13 digs and Alissa Flint had 11.
Maria Sandoval finished with 19 kills and 15 digs for Columbia. Caroline Clifford had 17 kills and 11 digs while Kiersten Anderson notched 11 kills and 18 digs. Manuela Vargas dished out 60 assists and had 12 digs. Thais Andrade tallied 17 digs.
“We know that it’s going to be a battle and it’s going to be hard,” said Meawad. “Columbia is such a good team. We’re not going to win that easily. We talked together and we had each other’s backs.”
Her coach agreed.
“With a team like that, it can go either way,” said Talamantes. “We’re evenly matched. We know each other really well. It can go either way. Fortunately for us, it went our way tonight.”
Park, which ends the season at 36-1, wins its second national title and first since 2014. The Pirates also avenged their only loss of the season after falling to Columbia 3-2 in the championship match of the American Midwest Conference tournament on Nov. 10.
“I’m going to enjoy this while the moment lasts for as long as I can, because I coach the men’s team too,” said Talamantes. “We’re back in the gym in January, so I’m going to enjoy this for December.”
Columbia ends its season at 42-5. The Cougars have won four national titles, its last coming in 2015.