SIOUX CITY — The 2021 season might have come to an end, but the Northwestern College volleyball team never stopped fighting.
The Red Raiders battled hard on Thursday night against defending national champion Missouri Baptist in the NAIA national quarterfinals at Tyson Events Center, before falling to the Spartans in four sets. With the win, Missouri Baptist clinched its spot in the semifinal round.
Northwestern dropped sets one and two by scores of 25-20 and 25-18, before winning set three, 25-23, to make it a 2-1 match.
The Red Raiders pulled within a point in set four on a kill from freshman Alysen Dexter, but a 5-0 run from Missouri Baptist clinched the 25-19 set victory for the Spartans, as well as the match, 3-1.
While it wasn’t the outcome they wanted, the Red Raiders were still plenty proud of everything they accomplished in their run to the National Championship tournament.
Dexter led the team on Thursday with 15 kills, and finished with a team-high 432 kills on the season.
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“It was amazing,” Dexter said. “We kept fighting for it, and we knew there was nothing to lose. We just needed to play together, and our coach just kept telling us that a team can accomplish so much.
“We all kept fighting. They’re a very great team, and it was still a fun experience even though the outcome isn’t what we wanted.”
The Red Raiders’ ability to fight was evident from the very beginning. Missouri Baptist walloped its way to a 24-14 lead in set one, but Northwestern scored six straight points to pull back within four, at 24-20.
The Red Raiders couldn’t complete the rally though, as the Spartans finished it off with a kill from junior outside hitter Emma Lattimore to capture the frame, 25-20. Missouri Baptist then took set two, 25-18.
In set three, Missouri Baptist surged ahead by an 11-6 score before the Red Raiders started to battle back. A few minutes later, a service error by Missouri Baptist senior Manuela Vargas whittled the Spartans lead to 14-11.
Northwestern then reeled off a 3-0 run to tie the game at 14-14, thanks to back-to-back Missouri Baptist attack errors, and a kill by Dexter.
The teams then traded points to a 23-23 tie, but a kill from Northwestern senior Bekah Horstman and a Missouri Baptist attack error lifted the Raiders to a set win.
Northwestern nearly managed to erase another deficit in set four, but the Spartans final run brought the Raiders' season to an end.
“I’m just proud of them this week,” Northwestern coach Kyle Van Den Bosch said. “I thought we played really well. You can’t ask for much more as a coach than when you’re playing your best ball at the end, you feel like you’re getting better all the time, have a chance to display it, and play the defending national champions pretty tough.”
Missouri Baptist finished the match with a .330 hit percentage, while out-gaining the Raiders in total kills, 73-53. Five Spartans players had double-digit kills, led by Giovanna Tapigliani and Isidora Stojovic with 18 and 17, respectively.
The Spartans also finished with 20 more assists than the Raiders, and Missouri Baptist setter Manuela Vargas had an impressive 64 assists, 15 more than Northwestern's team total.
It’s hard to beat any team that puts up numbers like that.
“That is a good team,” Van Den Bosch said. “They’re going to have something to say about this tournament yet.”
Horstman finished second for Northwestern with nine kills on the night, while Katie Peters and Savonne Sterk each had eight. Emily Strasser had a team-high 24 digs, while Olivia Granstra and Jadeyn Schutt had 23 and 21 assists, respectively.
According to Van Den Bosch, Missouri Baptist was the best serving and passing team that the Red Raiders had played all season, and Vargas was one of the best setters he has ever seen.
“We’ve played a lot of good teams,” Van Den Bosch said. “And their setter really puts them in one-on-one positions, one hitter versus one blocker. I’ve been coaching 17 years, and that is one of the best I’ve seen, where she just really puts her hitters in position to be successful.”
The Raiders will lose three seniors to graduation this season season in defensive specialists Emily Strassner and Natalie Engebretson, along with Horstman.
But the vast majority of this year's roster will be back in 2022, and the future seems pretty bright on the volleyball court in Orange City.
“Those three players are amazing, and it will be hard losing them,” Dexter said. “But you know, we’ve still got that fight and grit, and joy. It’ll be good.”
Northwestern’s season ends with a 20-11 overall record.
Now, it’s time for the Red Raiders to take a much-needed break.
After all, it was only seven months ago that the team played in the 2020 National Championship Tournament, after it was pushed to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They've been going for awhile.
“It feels like it's been about a year and a half season,” Van Den Bosch said. “We’ll take a little breather, get refreshed, and then start planning for the next one.”
Missouri Baptist will play Marian on Friday at 7:30 p.m. for a spot in Saturday’s national title game.
Park beats Providence in four sets
The Park University (Mo.) volleyball team took down the University of Providence (Mont.) on Thursday night by a 3-1 score in the NAIA National Championship quarterfinals. The Pirates won sets one, two, and four by scores of 25-22, 25-19, and 25-18, while the Argonauts captured set three, 25-19.
Park senior outside hitter Nada Meawad finished with a team-high 28 kills on the night. Freshman setter Vera Beltrame led the team with 51 assists, and senior Noura Meadwad put up 24 digs.
For Providence, Sadie Lott led the offense with 17 kills, Sacha Legros had a team-high 25 digs, and Cydney Finberg-Roberts put up 37 assists.
Park out-hit Providence, 66 kills to 42, and put up 20 more assists than the Argonauts.
The loss ends Providence’s season at 28-3 overall, while Park improved to 33-2.
The Pirates will play No. 1 ranked Jamestown on Friday at 5 p.m. in the national semifinals.