SEWARD, Neb. – Not since the 2001 NAIA football playoffs has Concordia University played host to a national championship event. That will change on Saturday when the Bulldog volleyball program welcomes Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.) for the opening round of the 2015 NAIA Volleyball National Championship. Concordia and its opponent from the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference will get play underway at 1:30 p.m. CT from Walz Arena.
Olivet Nazarene (23-16) at No. 16 Concordia (26-8)
Saturday, Nov. 21 | 1:30 p.m. CT
Site: Seward, Neb. | Walz Arena
Webcast: Concordia Sports Network ($8)
Live Stats: Dakstats
Admission: $8 for adults; $5 with college ID/18 and under
Fourth-year head coach Scott Mattera, named GPAC tri-coach of the year on Wednesday, will lead the program into its first-ever national tournament appearance with an overall record of 26-8 and No. 16 national ranking.
“We’ve accomplished so much and almost everything that our vision component says that we want to be,” Mattera said. “At this point, this is gravy so let’s have a blast with it, work our tails off and see how good we can be. There’s nothing to lose at this point. I think we can play a little freer, a little looser than we did (in the GPAC title match). I think the girls are ready to take that mindset and make it happen.”
Concordia earned the second-to-last at-large bid in the national tournament field after resting on the bubble for much of the season. In what essentially turned out to be a national tournament elimination game, the Bulldogs toppled then 17th-ranked Northwestern in the GPAC quarterfinals. Concordia made its way to the GPAC championship for the first time ever after defeating College of Saint Mary in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, the Tigers, led by 20th-year head coach Brenda Williams, are making their 11th all-time national tournament appearance and second in a row. Olivet Nazarene has a record of 7-25 in its first 10 forays on the national stage. Williams, the 2015 CCAC coach of the year, entered this season as the fourth-winningest active volleyball coach in the NAIA. Champions of the CCAC regular season, the Tigers are led by senior middle Becky DeRuiter, the conference’s co-player of the year. Fellow senior Renee Enz also garnered first team all-conference accolades.
The Bulldogs also got good news on Wednesday when the GPAC released its all-conference volleyball teams. In addition to Mattera being lauded as one of the league’s three coaches of the year, junior Alayna Kavanaugh and sophomores Annie Friesen and Jocelyn Garcia were each named first team all-GPAC. Senior Claire White and junior Paige Getz claimed second team honors. Friesen’s impressive .382 hitting percentage (No. 8 in the NAIA) makes her a candidate for even more prestigious awards.
After a thrilling 2015 run that included a perfect early-season trip to the Windy City, another top-four GPAC finish, an appearance in the GPAC championship and first-ever national tournament bid, the Bulldogs have their sights set on advancing to Sioux City, Iowa, where the final 24 teams left standing will converge. In order to get there, Concordia must get past Olivet Nazarene.
The Bulldogs hope the local community will help their cause by making Walz an electric environment on Saturday.
“Our student section has come through for us in such a positive way,” Mattera said. “It’s a credit to the girls. They’re popular girls. They’re fun to be around so people come out to support them. The community is starting to get behind them and notice what great role models they are. They bring their kids out. It’s snowballed. We take a lot of pride in that.”
*National rank in parentheses
Hitting Percentage: .227 (34th)
Kills/Set: 13.5 (19th)
Assists/Set: 12.2 (26th)
Aces/Set: 1.6 (T-58th)
Blocks/Set: 1.8 (T-93rd)
Digs/Set: 15.1 (120th)
Hitting Percentage: .193 (T-76th)
Kills/Set: 12.2 (65th)
Assists/Set: 11.1 (T-66th)
Aces/Set: 1.5 (102nd)
Blocks/Set: 1.9 (T-71st)
Digs/Set: 15.4 (103rd)
Hitting Percentage: Annie Friesen – .381
Kills/Set: Claire White – 2.8
Assists/Set: Alayna Kavanaugh – 10.8
Aces/Set: Jocelyn Garica – 0.5
Blocks/Set: Annie Friesen – 0.9
Digs/Set: Jocelyn Garcia – 4.4
Hitting Percentage: Becky DeRuiter – .238
Kills/Set: Becky DeRuiter – 2.9
Assists/Set: Renee Enz – 9.5
Aces/Set: Katie Tabisz – 0.3
Blocks/Set: Becky DeRuiter – 1.1
Digs/Set: Iiana Chakarova – 3.4