The Northwest volleyball team started its season with a trip to Tampa, Florida, where the Bearcats took care of business at the Courtyard by Marriott Volleyball Classic.
The Bearcats returned to Maryville 4-0, defeating Augustana (3-1) and Ashland (3-0) Sept. 3 and ending the weekend defeating Illinois Springfield (3-0) and earning a five-set, comeback win over then-No. 5 Tampa.
The performance moved the Bearcats from No. 17 to No. 8 in this week’s AVCA Division II poll, marking the program’s highest ranking ever.
In the matchup against Tampa, the event’s host school, the Bearcats claimed two out of three sets before the Spartans secured the fourth (25-16), which forced a fifth and final set.
Tampa came close to handing Northwest its first loss of the season, with the Bearcats trailing 14-8 in the fifth set.
Then everything changed.
“We didn’t give up till the last point,” Northwest coach Amy Woerth said. “It’s one of the wildest things I’ve been a part of my whole volleyball career.”
Somehow, Woerth said, the Bearcats were suddenly tied with the Spartans at 14. The next thing she knew, her squad mustered a 17-15 comeback win to return to Maryville unblemished. The comeback was led by freshman middle hitter Abby Brunssen, along with sophomore outside hitter Jaden Ferguson.
Ferguson tallied a career-high seven blocks and a season-high 12 kills against the Spartans. Sophomore setter Alyssa Rezac, who also serves as a team captain, recorded the third double-double of her career with career highs in both assists (48) and digs (24).
“This was definitely a highlight in my career,” Rezac said.
Facing up against the No. 5 team in the country took a lot from the Bearcats, which they expected. They focused on being resilient before heading to Tampa, and they knew they’d have to be just that while facing the tough competition.
Junior libero Hannah Koechl tallied 61 digs in 15 sets for the weekend. Throughout the weekend, Ferguson led the team in blocks with 15 and had 41 kills in 15 sets.
Despite never playing a regular-season match at Northwest, Brunssen stepped up with 23 kills and 10 blocks in 12 sets. Rezac’s notable performance put her at 97 assists so far this season throughout a mere four matches.
“My teammates deserve most of the credit for that,” Rezac said. “When hitters are able to put the ball away at a high level, it makes my job easier.”
Although the Bearcats head into this weekend as the No. 8 team in Division II, they aren’t worried about that. They’re locked in on the Capital Classic Sept. 10-11 in Springfield, Illinois, where they’ll have another four-match slate against some of the best competition in the country.
“I think I can speak for the whole team when I say we just go out and play,” Koechl said. “We try not to think about rankings and just give 100% at any given moment.”