Finishing the season the way it should have began
When not in school or writing for The Lumberjack, I can be found practicing in the Heath and Learning Center with the NAU Women’s Club Volleyball Team. Thoughts of heading to nationals this year were a little less than daunting. Coaching ourselves and not having won a match all season, it was one thing to psyche ourselves up for the trip. It was another to believe in the words we were saying. Once we landed Kansas City, Kan., and driving over the state line and into Kansas City, Mo., there was no turning back.
Not being familiar with the Midwest, expectations for the city were high. There was so much history where the team stayed. A Veteran’s Memorial and a museum hosting a Titanic exhibition neighbored our hotel. Trains were constantly passing through on old tracks. It was almost a shame we were there to play and not to explore.
Our first day of practice at the Kansas City Convention Center was an experience to say the least. One-way directional escalators forced us to run up the down escalators to get to our court — something I never imagined I would ever find myself doing.
After a few days off for rest and a day of shuttle rides and airplane travel, just the idea of exercising seemed unfathomable, but there was an unspoken anticipation in the air. That night, pool play was posted and none of the other universities sounded familiar.
Day two, the first day of the tournament’s pool play and the University of Wisconsin-Stout was our first opponent. After losing the first set 23-25, I’ll admit there was a sinking feeling this would not be this past year’s nationals, in which we took home silver. Somehow, the team that had been hiding itself all season finally emerged. We fought back 25-10 to push to a third game tiebreaker, and finished 15-13. Spectators would have thought we just won the whole tournament by the way we celebrated. Not only did we just win our first match of nationals, but our first match of our whole season. Our next match was against Indiana University South Bend and we quickly rolled them over in only two sets, 25-17 and 25-8.
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst did not allow us to play as strongly to conclude our first day of play. Another three set match in which we had to fight our way back in the second game after a first game loss to see a third set was just what we needed to prove to ourselves we had what it took. Heading back to the hotel on a high of being undefeated for the day sparked hopes for the championship pool play on day three.
With our record from the day before, we secured ourselves a bye for the first match. We were more than content with being being referees for our opponents’ game. When Harvard and Loyola Marymount University (LMU) finished their match, we took the court with jokes of how we were going to “outsmart” the scrappy and strategic Harvard team. Much to our own surprise, we did just that in only two sets. Next up was a team we were more than familiar with. LMU’s coach has always been a silent supporter of our team ever since we first faced them in the previous year. Playing them again was bittersweet, in a way. In two close sets of play we left the Convention Center again with another day of winning. Our record in just two days: 5-0.
On morning of the championship day, the only thing standing between the semi–finals and us was the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They reminded us that favoring the underdog does not always come to frutation. Whether it was fatigue or mental lapse, we lost another first set 19-25 and for the second time within our stay did it seem we were going to retreat back to our old selves. The second set followed in the same manner. A tie for fifth place in the quarterfinals concluded our 2012 season. The Bulldogs continued on to defeat California State University Long Beach and University of Notre Dame in the finals to take first in Division I AAA.
Saturday night was the men’s club championship match between University of Notre Dame and University of California-Berkeley. An atmosphere of camaraderie from across the 300 men’s and women’s team was present. “Sweet Caroline” was sung by an entire stadium; the match was well worth hype. As much as we had hoped the West Coast would pull through, Notre Dame took the gold. After the match, clubs collaborated together and headed over to the Sprint Center to continue the season-ending celebration.
The flight back home the next morning was bittersweet, as all our work for the season came through when we needed it most. Although, replaying the last match over and over again, I’m still more than content with how we played and how we proved we were competitors.