Joe Bergman, California Lutheran UniversityCourtesy
The volleyball teams’ national championship hopes came to an end on Nov. 15 after the team fell 3-0 (16-25, 18-25, 27-29) to No. 9 Cal Lutheran in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
After winning the ASC championship for just the third time in program history and the first time since 2009, the squad was set to head to California take on Whitworth in the first match of the tournament on Nov. 13.
Junior outside hitter Abbie Barth said the team was very excited.
“We were just waiting to see who was going to host regionals and waiting for that Monday’s NCAA show to see where we were headed or if we were at home,” she said. “We were just very excited to be there.”
Earlier in the year, the Comets played Whitworth when they traveled to Georgetown, Texas to play in the Mary-Hardin Baylor Tournament. UTD won that contest 3-0.
Heading into the rematch against the Pirates, the Comets were focused on Whitworth’s outside attack.
“We knew they have really good outside hitters,” Barth said. “I think they rely on their outside hitters as much as we rely on our middles.”
Despite having gained experience against Whitworth during the season, UTD dropped the first set 19-25.
Head coach Marci Sanders said she had to make adjustments because the team was struggling with the serve-receive and setting the ball up to its hitters.
“I also changed up our match ups a little bit, and so I rotated us around a little bit,” she said. “But the kids, honestly, they just started fundamentally playing better. We passed better, we got the ball to the hitters that we needed to get the ball to and they made the decisions that needed to be made.”
Even though they dropped the first set, UTD won the match 3-1 (19-25, 25-22, 25-15, 25-17).
Barth said the mood of the team was high after the win. The celebration would have to be short-lived, however, because the next day they would take on California Lutheran — the team that had knocked UTD out of the NCAA tournament in 2009.
Coming into the game, the Regals were the ninth ranked team in the nation. They were also playing in their home gym — something that Barth said made the game more challenging.
“Their fans were pretty loud, pretty obnoxious, which is always a fun atmosphere to play in,” she said. “We knew it was going to be tough and we knew they were going to play well in their own gym.”
Starting the game, Cal Lutheran’s physical abilities were evident as they moved the ball through UTD’s defense with ease. Adding on to UTD’s woes were the 17 errors the team committed in the first two sets.
Sanders also said ball movement once again hurt the Comets.
“It kind of came down to the serve and pass game,” she said. “We weren’t able to throw them out of their system, and they were able to do that to us.”
UTD headed into the third set down 2-0 and fighting for their survival. Looking for any kind of spark to light the team, Sanders moved Barth to libero.
“Abbie was struggling a little bit and so was (freshman libero) Fayna (Zang), and so I just decided, you know, leave it all out on the floor,” she said. “I also wanted to try and get (senior outside hitter) Meredith Crawford out on the floor. She’s been hurt most of the season and I wanted to see if she could come out and make some plays for us.”
The changes seemed to work, as UTD played toe-to-toe with the Regals for most of the third set. Still, the Comets found themselves down 24-21 with the season on the line.
That’s when UTD battled back and picked up four points in a row to stave off elimination.
“At that point, we were still in the game,” Barth said. “It was very intense. We just didn’t want to let them win. I think we wanted it more.”
Despite having at least two shots at extending the game to a fourth set, the Comets were not able to complete the rally and Cal Lu won the third 29-27, ending UTD’s season.
After the game, Barth said the team was focused on the positives of the season.
“We just kept reminding each other that we accomplished so much this season, that one game doesn’t define us,” she said. “We’re still proud of all the things we had (done.)”
For Sanders, the performance the team made this year makes her believe that it was the best that UTD has ever produced.
“I told them after the match that this team was a better team than our 2009 team,” she said. “I honestly feel like this group is the best group of individuals that came together as a team overall.”
Before the loss, the team was on a 24-game winning streak, one shy of a program record. Looking forward to next year, Barth said the teams’ performance makes her excited for the possibilities in 2016.
“We have a lot of returners, which is nice,” she said. “I know we’re going to build on this season and make next season even better, so I’m pretty excited for next season.”