Northwest volleyball made its first-ever top-10 appearance in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll on Sept. 30. This ranking is due to the Bearcats' five-game win streak, four victories over ranked opponents this season and an undefeated MIAA record.
This marks the 13th time that Northwest has been ranked in the AVCA top 25.
Junior (middle back) Morgan Lewis views the top-10 ranking as a cool title but doesn’t let the high ranking affect who they are as a team.
“It’s really cool, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Lewis said. “We still have a while to go; we’re getting 1% better every day.”
Northwest embarked on a 241-mile road trip Sept. 27-28 as the ‘Cats battled against the Pittsburg State Gorillas and the Missouri Southern Lions.
The Bearcats began the weekend Sept. 27 in Pittsburg, Kansas, against Pitt State. They won in four sets by scores of 15-25, 31-29, 25-16 and 25-22.
Northwest found itself behind after the Gorillas took a commanding 25-15 win in the first set. Coach Amy Woerth believes Pittsburg State was more comfortable coming out of the gate.
“They play very well at home, and they’re comfortable,” Woerth said. “Their coach has created a nucleus that has done a pretty good job. I also don’t think we were playing our best, which didn’t help.”
After struggling through the first set, Northwest was able to return to their typical pattern of play. The Bearcats produced 40 kills and had an average hitting percentage of .492 in the next two sets, leading to the narrow 25-22 victory in the final set of the night
Lewis understood after dropping the first set that this wasn’t how Northwest plays volleyball, and the rest of the team also came to that realization.
“I think we kind of realized that’s not who we are,” Lewis said. “We’re better than that, and we know we don’t make errors like we did in that game. We just need to do what we do and be us.”
Sophomore middle hitter Bethany Elkins was able to keep the Bearcats ahead with 15 kills. For Elkins, this marked the fifth straight match she reached double figures in kills. Freshman outside hitter Jaden Ferguson came off a career-high kill performance with 19 kills and added three blocks.
“We know Ferguson is a talented player, and I think sometimes as a freshman you don’t want to put a lot on their plate,” Woerth said. “She showed us throughout the entire match she was ready and wanted more on her plate. She ended up becoming one of our go-to players in certain rotations. Being able to have a freshman play at that level is fun.”
Northwest then traveled to Joplin, Missouri, Sept. 28 to face Missouri Southern. The Bearcats were able to stay ahead and won in three straight sets by scores of 25-17, 25-18 and 25-20. The women had a lot of offensive success from juniors Lewis, Hallie Sidney and Maddy Ahrens. Lewis hit .522 with 13 kills. Sidney tallied 11 kills and a service ace. Ahrens contributed 37 assists and an ace.
Although the Bearcats struggled early against Pittsburg State the day before, Lewis saw the team come together earlier in the match, which helped them sweep the Lions.
“I thought everything just worked well together. We were serving well, we were passing well, and if we pass well, then Maddy Ahrens is phenomenal at placing the ball for different hitters,” Lewis said. “Back row was talking to front row about where to go, everything was just clicking together.”
Those two victories now place Northwest at second in the MIAA with an overall 11-1 record and a perfect 4-0 conference record. Woerth doesn’t seem to let the undefeated MIAA record get the best of their ego, reiterating the message that stuck with Lewis.
“It’s a good start, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Woerth said. “We know we’re going to have some challenges ahead, and based on the confidence that we have so far, I’m really proud of what we’ve done. Now how can we use that confidence to move forward, especially with facing more tough MIAA opponents.”
Northwest begins its five-game home stretch with two games Oct. 4-5. They will face Fort Hays State Oct. 4, then face No. 4 Nebraska-Kearney Oct. 5. Having a five-game home stretch is crucial for players
“It’s nice because it’s easier to travel for families, and not missing school is a big thing,” Lewis said. “I won’t have to worry about doing homework, and we’ll be able to be comfortable since we’re in our own gym.”
With the fourth-ranked Lopers from Nebraska-Kearney (13-0) coming to town, it’s hard to not be excited and look ahead to this matchup. When mentioning what the game plan is, Woerth was straight forward.
“We don’t know,” Woerth said. “Come to the game and we’ll show you.”
Lewis, on the other hand, is mentally preparing to do what it takes to come out on top.
“They’re a good team and well-disciplined, but so are we,” Lewis said. “We’ll go out there and execute the coach’s game plan and we’ll do great.