After a crushing loss, Northwest volleyball’s season came to an end at the hands of conference rival Central Missouri in the first round of the MIAA tournament.
The first-round loss is not an unfamiliar feeling for Northwest. The Bearcats have not won a game in the MIAA tournament since 1992.
Coming into the contest, the Bearcats were given the No. 4 seed in the tournament, just ahead of the Jennies at No. 5. This didn’t seem to faze Central Missouri as they came out of the locker room with something to prove, taking the first set by an overwhelming margin, 25-15.
The momentum of the first set carried over for Central Missouri (25-6) as the Jennies jumped out to an early 11-5 set two lead over the Bearcats. Coach Amy Woerth was forced to call a timeout to try and stop a point surge from the visiting opponents. But it seemed as if coach Flip Piontek used the timeout to his advantage and installed more defense to counter the explosive Bearcat offense.
As Northwest tried to make a run and even out the set, Central Missouri kept pace and ended up winning the second set 25-17. The Bearcats found their backs against the wall as they entered a do-or-die set three with the Jennies.
Northwest finally found a break in the opposing defense and rallied off 10 points in the beginning of set three to find themselves leading 10-5. Central Missouri made a late set push to bring the set to a 24-24 tie before Northwest scored two straight points to take the set, winning 26-24 and forcing a fourth set.
“Incorporating Morgan Lewis in the third set provided some spark and got us going,” Woerth said. “I thought she did a good job coming off the bench and competing.”
The Bearcat luck dissipated in set four as they seemed to run out of steam in holding off the Jennies offense. Throughout the first part of the set, each team took their turn scoring points until the first timeout was taken by Northwest with the score at a deadlock, 11-11.
Coming out of the timeout, Central Missouri rattled off a 7-1 run, taking the score to an 18-12 lead and gradually closing the door to a Bearcat comeback. The Jennies eventually sealed the deal capping a 3-1 match win, coming out victorious in set four 25-17.
“When anyone comes out punching like that, you have to step back a couple of notches,” Woerth said with tears in her eyes. “It just took us too long to regain our thinking with how aggressive they were. Hats off to them and their win.”
In a season where multiple historic marks were set by the Bearcats, including the first 20-win season since 1999 and notching 14 MIAA wins, the end came sooner than expected, bringing with it a feeling of missed opportunity.
Throughout the season, Northwest has embraced the underdog role time and time again, and they continued to overcome the title and complete their goals.
Senior Olivia Nowakowski put it into words what it has been like to be a part of the Bearcat volleyball program and what she will take with her when she graduates.
“When you get to be a part of something so big, it changes your mindset and makes you want to play for the person next to you,” Nowakowski said. “We work together. Not because we have to, but because we want to. It’s amazing to see how much love we have for each other. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my four years in any other program but Bearcat volleyball.”