WEST PLAINS, Mo. – After a two-year absence from participating on its sport’s biggest stage, the Hutchinson Community College volleyball team walked on the practice floor on Wednesday at the West Plains Civic Center and the point was finally driven home to the players.
The Lady Dragons were back at the NJCAA Division I National Volleyball Tournament.
“We’ve been talking about it the whole season,” Wade said. “At the beginning of the season, coach said, ‘Would you like to have a talk about not going to nationals, or a talk coming home from nationals?’ ”
“It’s exciting to be a part of this, being the team that got it back,” said freshman outside hitter Teresa Wade, who last week was named both the Jayhawk West Freshman and Jayhawk West Player of the Year. “It’s exciting to go to nationals.”
The 10th-seeded Lady Dragons (27-8) will meet seventh-seed North Idaho College (22-5) at 11 a.m. on Court 1 at the West Plains Civic Center. If Hutchinson wins its opening-round match, it would play again on Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. A loss would send HCC to the consolation bracket at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 16.
All matches can be seed on the Blue Dragon Sports Network via NJCAA TV. The HCC Sports Information Department will also offer an audio-only feed with the Hutchinson play-by-play. The HCC Twitter feed will also be available.
The last time Hutchinson played an opening-round match at the West Plains Civic Center as a lower seed, arguably the best match in Lady Dragon volleyball history took place. Led by then All-America middle blocker and now HCC assistant coach Brandi Hood, the 2006 Lady Dragons took a 2-0 lead on defending national champion Miami-Dade, was forced to a fifth set, fought off a match point and defeated the Sharks 18-16 in the fifth set when Ludmilla Amaral stuffed All-American Paola Ampudia on match point.
Under first-year head coach Patrick Hall, the 2012 Lady Dragons won the Jayhawk West with a 13-1 record. The Lady Dragons went 3-3 against nationally ranked opponents, gaining momentum late in the season when they rallied from two sets down to defeat No. 12 Missouri State University-West Plains in five sets on the final day of the regular season at the Jefferson College Tournament.
At Region VI, after sweeping Cloud County in the play-in round at the Sports Arena, the Lady Dragons rallied to defeat Barton twice, first in the opening round and then in the championship match, to punch their ticket to West Plains.
“After we won the region, things have worked out particularly well,” Hall said. “We’ve picked up our energy level. We’ve struggled this year with our intensity on the court, but we’ve had some of our best practices of the season, with our energy and our focus.”
The Lady Dragons enter the national tournament without eye-popping statistical numbers. As a team, HCC is hitting .222 as a team with Wade leading the way at .280 hitting and 2.88 kills per set. Sophomore middle blocker Gabby Rushton is hitting a team-high .305 with 1.88 kills per set.
The sophomore setting combination of Scout Heizer and Ashlyn Westerman have combined for 10.32 assists per set. Heizer is at 5.45 assists per set with a team-high 58 service aces. Westerman is at 4.29 assists per set with 36 service aces.
Defensively, the Lady Dragons are averaging 2.36 blocks per set, up dramatically over the first 15 matches of the season where the average hovered just over a block per set. Rushton leads the Lady Dragons at 1.14 blocks per set. The team’s second-leading blocker is freshman Megan Heier at 0.90. She may not be available this weekend after sustaining an injury in practice.
Freshman libero Samantha Lackey set a freshman record and ranks third in HCC team history with 578 digs. Her average of 4.35 digs per set ranks in the nation’s Top 25. Her 34 digs against Barton in the Region VI championship match on Nov. 4 was a single-match Lady Dragon record.
The Lady Dragons are making their sixth appearance at the NJCAA Division I National Volleyball Championships.
The first came in 2004 under Ronda Shirley. Without question the best team in program history, the 2004 Lady Dragons went 43-1, with its only loss being suffered in the NJCAA Tournament quarterfinals to Indian Hills. That team finished fifth in the nation.
The 2005 team, under interim head coach Nicole Phillips, finished eighth. The 2006 team, which Shirley back on the bench won a third-straight undefeated Jayhawk West crown and placed seventh at the national tournament. The 2008 and 2009 tournaments – both at Council Bluffs, Iowa, HCC dropped opening round matches, but rallied with a pair of Friday wins to stay alive. Hutchinson finished 10th in 2008 and ninth in 2009 in a match highlighted by Carol Logato’s kick-save dig that kept a point alive against San Jacinto and HCC ultimately won and took the match in four sets.
Hutchinson and North Idaho have met once at the national tournament. Coming off the high of the Miami-
Dade victory, the Lady Dragons met North Idaho in the 2006 quarterfinals and lost 30-19, 30-27, 30-21.
The teams have met three other times in the regular season, all in Salt Lake City. The Cardinals won 2-0 in both 2006 and 2007 and 2-1 in 2008.
(HCC Sports Information)
2012 NJCAA DIVISION I VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT OPENING-ROUND PAIRINGS
Thursday, November 15, 2012 at West Plains Civic Center, West Plains, Mo.
9 a.m. – Court 1 – No. 3 Iowa Western (43-2) vs. No. 14 Temple College (22-17)
9 a.m. – Court 2 – No. 6 College of Central Florida (33-6) vs. No. 11 Western Texas College (28-6)
11 a.m. – Court 1 – No. 7 North Idaho College (22-5) vs. No. 10 Hutchinson (27-8)
11 a.m. – Court 2 – No. 2 Western Nebraska (37-2) vs. No. 15 Wallace State (33-6)
1 p.m. – Court 1 – No. 1 College of Southern Idaho (29-1) vs. No. 16 Faulkner State (27-7)
1 p.m. – Court 2 – No. 8 Hillsborough (27-12) vs. No. 9 Missouri State-West Plains (25-9)
3 p.m. – Court 1 – No. 5 Tyler Junior College (29-5) vs. No. 12 – Redlands (23-9)
3 p.m. – Court 2 – No. 4 San Jacinto (32-2) vs. No. 13 Casper College (23-17)