While the season came to an end Saturday for the East Central College volleyball Falcons, they did earn a consolation prize from the NJCAA Division II Region O Tournament in Kansas City.
ECC claimed the Region 16 championship.
“We played well this past weekend and had good offensive and defensive efforts from many players,” said ECC Head Coach Lisa Mathes-Peters.
The Falcons (15-29) lost in the district championship match to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, 25-18, 27-29, 23-25, 25-14, 15-8 as the Norse captured a berth in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
However, by virtue of a 25-17, 25-20, 25-20 win over Cottey College in the semifinals, the Falcons won the Region 16 title. NEO is a Region 2 team, so ECC was the last Region 16 team standing in the event. NEO defeated MCC-Longview in the other semifinal, knocking the Lakers out of the event.
The Falcons also picked up several regional honors as well. As the Region 16 champion, Mathes-Peters was selected as the regional coach of the year.
“The coach of the year award is a huge honor and I am proud to represent our region in that aspect,” Mathes-Peters said.
Additionally, three ECC players were selected to the All-Regional team. They were freshmen Sadie Pafford (Bowling Green), Amanda Reetz (West Delaware, Manchester, Iowa) and Haley Zenner (Dubuque, Iowa).
ECC continued its streak of reaching the District O championship match and now has done so every season since the program was restarted in 2007 with three titles and three runner-up finishes.
“Sadly, we didn’t get the chance at nationals but gives me a very positive outlook on next season,” Mathes-Peters said. “The returners will be experienced and be able to provide the leadership that we lacked at times this year due to being so young.”
The season marked the first time since the program was restarted in 2007 that East Central finished below .500. The Falcons went 21-21 in 2007, 34-12 in 2008, 26-15 in 2009, 37-9 in 2010 and 28-13 last season.
“Our schedule was very tough this year and by playing the teams we did it helped us grow,” Mathes-Peters said. “Although I am sad we aren’t going to nationals, it doesn’t take away how proud I am of the girls that have grown as players and young women this season.”
Up two games to one, the Falcons just needed one more victory to qualify for their fourth NJCAA Division II national tournament.
But NEO, which swept the Falcons at the District O Seeding Tournament at St. Louis Community College earlier in the season, rallied from the deficit to win the match.
The Norse took the first game, 25-18, but ECC came back to win a close second game, 29-27, and prevailed in a similar third game, 25-23.
In the fourth game, NEO faced elimination but came back to win, 25-14, and carried that momentum to a 15-8 win in the fifth game.
“Sadie Pafford and Amanda Reetz played tough versus NEO but unfortunately NEO made no errors and we did at key times when we could have turned the last two sets around,” Mathes-Peters said. “We blocked at the net well versus NEO which was good to see because they had a very offensive middle and outside.”
As a team, the Falcons struggled to terminate the ball, hitting just .177 as a team for the match.
Pafford led the way in kills, putting down 14 while Reetz had 13 and Zenner recorded nine terminations. Amy Wibbenmeyer (Cape Notre Dame) checked in with seven kills while Whitney Froman (Scott City) was next with seven kills. Ali Wootten (Bowling Green) posted five kills while Jacy Lashly (Eminence) ended with four. Sarah Stepp (Oakville) had one kill.
Stepp led the setters with 34 assists. Wootten added 14 while Pafford, Marisa Patton (Summersville) and Wibbenmeyer each had one assist.
Stepp served two aces. Megan Manis (Winona) and Zenner each had one ace.
Manis led the team with 23 digs. Zenner was credited with 20 while Reetz had 11.
Wootten recorded six digs, Froman had four, Stepp ended with three, Patton had two and Lashly and Wibbenmeyer each had one dig.
Pafford had five total blocks while Lashly and Zenner each had four. Reetz, Froman, and Wibbenmeyer had two apiece while Patton ended with one.
As the tournament’s top seed, ECC was able to take Friday night off and wait to see who they would play between Cottey and Wentworth.
Cottey College won the Friday night match. ECC warmed up Saturday morning by beating Cottey in three games, 25-17, 25-20, 25-20.
“Whitney Froman and Amanda Reetz had a good offensive match against Cottey and our defensive effort was well rounded,” Mathes-Peters said.
The Falcons hit .171 as a team against Cottey with 35 kills and 16 errors on 111 attack attempts.
Reetz led the team with eight kills while Froman and Zenner posted seven kills apiece.
Pafford was next with five kills while Lashly had three, Meghan Eggemeyer (Festus) and Wootten each had two and Wibbenmeyer recorded one kill.
Wootten recorded 16 assists while Stepp had 15 and Manis chipped in with one.
Stepp served three aces while Wootten ended with two and Zenner added one.
Manis led the team in digs with 16. Reetz posted 11, Zenner had eight, Wootten ended with five, Lashly and Stepp posted two apiece while Froman and Wibbenmeyer each had one.
Pafford recorded two total blocks while Zenner and Froman each had one.
It is unknown how many of the 12 players on the team will be back next season. All 12 were freshmen this year as every player from the 2011 team transferred out either due to finishing their eligibility or finding other opportunities.
Mathes-Peters has started recruiting for next year’s class and intends to sign a local high school senior this week.