Coming out of last weekend, Northwest volleyball has found a spot at No. 15 in the AVCA Top 25. This sets a program-best in the rankings and is the Bearcats’ best ranking since Oct. 24, 2016, where they were ranked No. 16. This now marks the 11th time that Northwest has been ranked in the AVCA top 25.
Northwest volleyball achieved the accolade by traveling four hours south Sept.13-14 to Springfield, Missouri, where they took home three wins in four matches. Those matches include a matchup with No. 7 Northern State, as well as Colorado Mesa, Drury and Truman State.
Coach Amy Woerth viewed the ranking as a nice way to be recognized by the country, but said it doesn’t define their season.
“The AVCA ranking is fun; it's like an icing on top of the cake idea,” Woerth said. “On the other hand, it’s not going to get us into the postseason. It has nothing to do with regional rankings. I don’t really put stock into it.”
Northwest began the tournament against Northern State, winning in four sets by scores of 19-25, 25-11, 25-22 and 25-23. Freshman Sydney McDermott took her first action on the court as a moment to shine and recorded five blocks, which was tied for first in the match. Junior Hallie Sidney led the team with 19 kills and 10 digs.
Woerth was pleased to see her team be resilient after losing the first set. Woerth believed beating a highly-ranked team like Northern State was no fluke.
“We just thought we were a better team than them; they weren’t very scrappy with what they needed to do,” Woerth said. “Our whole game plan, as always, was to serve and pass and get them out of their system. We were able to execute what we’re all about at a high level.”
As the players scouted out the Wolves of Northern State, they knew it would be no easy task taking home a win. Sophomore Bethany Elkins believed they were able to pull the upset by coming together as a team.
“We knew they had some big hitters and really tall people, but in the game, we found what worked for us,” Elkins said. “We out scrapped them on defense and the little things were pulled together.”
The Bearcats finished out their first day with a clean sweep of Colorado Mesa; winning by scores of 25-22, 25-18 and 25-19. Junior Morgan Lewis tallied 13 kills, freshman Jaden Ferguson wasn’t too far behind with 11.
Northwest continued to include freshmen into the lineup and Woerth was pleased with how they handled the pressure.
“We had a couple of freshmen on the court, and I think they are continuing to show their maturity in situations they’ve never been in,” Woerth said. “They’re doing their jobs. For them to do it multiple weeks in a row, multiple matches in a row, it’s really fun to see the work they’ve put in.”
Despite facing the No. 7 team in the country Sept. 13, Saturday, Sept. 14, was a true test of mental and physical strength for the Bearcats. Northwest started the afternoon with a loss to Drury in five sets with scores of 25-10, 17-25, 21-25, 25-22 and 16-14. The ‘Cats found themselves in good position until the fourth set when they only hit .068 and had eight attack errors.
Less than three hours later, the ‘Cats took the court again, this time beating Truman State in five sets with scores of 19-25, 25-15, 25-20, 23-25 and 15-12. Elkins posted a career-high 24 kills while hitting .526. Boise State transfer Hannah Koechl tallied a career-high 23 kills. The Bearcats are now 2-1 this season when a match involves the fifth set.
Facing back-to-back five-set matches typically takes a toll on a player's mind. Elkins said that the Bearcats just view it as one point at a time.
“Just thinking point by point helps,” Elkins said. “I think just focusing on the next point or the first to five points, just having a strong start and finishing strong.”
Northwest received help from two players who were named to the Drury Invitational All-Tournament Team. The dynamic duo of Elkins and Sidney headlined those honors. Sidney had 37 digs and 67 kills through the tournament. Elkins had 40 kills and a .272 hitting average.
Woerth saw the Drury Invitational as a huge stepping stone for the rest of the season.
“We were challenged, and we rose to the occasion,” Woerth said. “For us to walk away 3-1 was a really good sign of the team we are already and set a really good high bar of what we’ll be at the end of the season.”
Northwest takes a break from tournament action until the MIAA Conference tournament begins in November. Woerth was thankful to participate in tournaments with top tier teams to prepare the Bearcats for the rest of the season.
“You look at the tournament we just came from, and it was such a grinder and a challenge, and that’s exactly what we get in the MIAA,” Woerth said. “I think we had a good mixture of the first weekend where you're more challenged by yourself and then settle down the second weekend where you focus on the opponent.”
The Bearcats had their first home game Sept. 18 against rival Missouri Western. Elkins was glad to hear the chants of the Northwest fans.
“It was exciting getting back in front of our fans and doing it against a rival,” Elkins said. “The intro to the conference was a lot of fun and seeing where we were coming out of the preseason.”