CRETE, Neb. – It wasn’t until the team had just about wrapped up its postgame outing at the Crete Dairy Queen when it heard the news – the season remains alive. Thanks to a strong finishing push over the final week-and-a-half of the regular season, the Concordia University volleyball team has snuck its way into the eight-team GPAC tournament that opens up on Saturday. It took a 25-22, 25-19, 25-22 win at Doane on Wednesday night (Oct. 31) to make it happen.
When the dust settled, it turned out that first-year head coach Ben Boldt’s squad had to have a victory and it had to have it in either three or four sets in order to win a tiebreaker to get into the GPAC tournament. The Bulldogs will enter the postseason at 15-11 overall (5-11 GPAC).
“We served and we blocked well,” Boldt said. “That was kind of the difference from the very first time that we played them. It was definitely fun being able to execute like we did. I’m really proud of the team for that.”
Concordia had a good showing of its own in terms of fan support at the Haddix Center on the Doane campus. The Bulldog faithful roared as Boldt’s crew put this one away with kills on the final three points of the match. Swings by Alex La Plant, Emmie Noyd and Tara Callahan pushed Concordia to the winner’s circle over a rival that had beaten it inside Walz Arena back on Sept. 18.
Two weeks ago, the chances of reaching the GPAC tournament appeared bleak after a disappointing performance in a loss at College of Saint Mary. Since then, the Bulldogs have defeated both Morningside and Doane and came within one point of upsetting No. 12 Midland in Fremont. They seem to have peaked just in time to save the season.
“They responded to the challenge,” Boldt said. “Just our mentality and how we’re approaching matches right now is really good. These last couple of weeks it’s been really fun to see them get tested by an opponent and then respond. It’s been fun being able to coach that.”
It’s also fun to watch sophomore Kara Stark pound heaters from the outside. The Tigers (13-16, 5-11 GPAC) may have paid a little bit too much attention to Concordia middles Emmie Noyd and Morgan Nibbe. At setter, Tara Callahan took advantage by finding Stark, who delivered a match high 15 kills while hitting .500. The offense was rolling. As a team, the Bulldogs outhit Doane, .292 to .183.
Senior Jenna Habegger gets to keep playing. She had 13 kills while Noyd (.346) added 10. Kelsey Baarck, Callahan, Nibbe and Noyd each had at least four block assists in helping Concordia to an 11-4 edge in team blocks. Meanwhile, Marissa Hoerman topped the back row with 12 digs.
Allison Kuenle (11 kills, .121) and Madison VanHousen (three kills, -.053) did not feast on Concordia in the way that they did back in September. The Bulldogs outnumbered the Tigers in kills, 46-36.
It was an all-around effort worthy of some DQ soft serve on a victorious Halloween evening. It won’t be easy to keep the treats coming in the GPAC tournament. As the No. 8 seed, Concordia will travel to play at GPAC champion Dordt (24-2, 16-0 GPAC) in a 7 p.m. CT quarterfinal match on Saturday. The winner will advance to play in the semifinals on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
In the final GPAC standings, the Bulldogs tied with three other teams for seventh place. The Nos. 7 and 8 seeds were ultimately decided by percentage of sets won within conference play. A loss – or even a win in five sets – at Doane on Wednesday would have eliminated Concordia.