With the new MCC Events Center up and running, the Lady Indians were able to host a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region IX event for the first time in many years. The young McCook team even pulled off a big first-round upset, and the Lady Indians had another foe on the ropes before succumbing in elimination bracket action Friday, Nov. 2.
Region IX powerhouse Western Nebraska Community College of Scottsbluff dominated the three-day event held Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 1-3, on the MCC campus in McCook. Western Nebraska did not drop a set in three match victories, including a 25-19, 25-10, 25-17 sweep over Northeastern Junior College of Sterling, Colo. in Saturday's championship finals.
WNCC takes a 37-2 record to a one-match playoff against Region IX North Division Tournament champion Casper (Wyo.) College. The winner qualifies for the 2012 NJCAA National Championship Tournament later this month in Missouri.
McCOOK WAS poised to advance to the elimination bracket semifinal with a commanding lead over Lamar (Colo.) C.C. Friday afternoon. MCC won the first two sets, 25-23 and 26-24, and held a lead in the third set. But Lamar rallied to win a 25-23 decision, then the Colorado squad kept momentum for a 25-16 win in game four, followed by a 15-7 win in the fifth and deciding set to eliminate the Lady Indians.
MCC head coach Natalie Alred said serving woes doomed her team in Friday's loss.
"Ending on the note that we did, we're all sick about losing that match -- none more than me," Alred said. "We missed some serves at crucial points. If we just could have got our serves in -- we missed four serves after we got to 20 points (in the third game). When you do that, you're not going to win the games. Being young, I think that attributed to it."
THE MCC squad competed this fall with 11 first-year players, and the Lady Indians finished with a 7-30 overall record. McCook did finish with a flourish, winning five of its final seven matches, including a 17-25, 21-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-11 first-round tournament victory over Otero (Colo.) Junior College last Thursday evening.
MCC dropped a straight-set decision to Northeastern in second-round play Friday morning, as the Colorado squad won by scores of 25-15, 26-24, 25-12.
ALRED KNOWS next year could be a much better season with the wealth of returning players set to come back to the squad.
"We learned so much this year, we improved so much, we grew as a team," Alred said. "The future for McCook volleyball is pretty bright. I'm really excited about what's going to happen next year.
"Right now everybody's talking about next year and they're excited about coming back, and that's what we're expecting, to bring everyone back. That means we'll have 11 returners -- I don't know when McCook had 11 kids returning.That's part of the battle, if you can get some people returning and get them in the off-season. Because spring ball is when you really improve in volleyball.
"We're OK, we're happy with how we played. But we know we can play better, so we're going to keep pushing to get better."
ALRED SAID the MCC recruiting focus for next year will be more height, another setter, middles, and another strong go-to-player on the outside to "take a little pressure" off freshman Vanessa Bartilla, a German native and leader on the Lady Indians this season.
"I don't like to say we're just looking for this position -- I'm looking for the best athletes we can get in here, the best players," Alred said.
Having the MCC Events Center completed should also be a recruiting plus for the MCC squad.
"Last year all we show them when we were bringing recruits in for volleyball was a hole," Alred said. "There was just a hole. There wasn't much up yet (building construction) until after volleyball was over. It will be exciting to bring them in.
"It's an amazing facility, we're so grateful for it. We're so grateful for all the help from the community."
Alred thanked all the helpers that made the Region IX Tournament a success.
"I've heard nothing but amazing comments about the people of McCook," she said. "I know I speak for the team that we are really thankful that we were able to play at home in a tournament for once."
THE MCC head coach said her team gleaned some valuable information watching a powerful team like Western Nebraska perform.
"You learn that they are an incredible team. They're 12 deep," Alred said. "If you watched the tournament, there's very few teams that are 12 deep besides them. That's where we aspire to get to. With our kids, we watched the games together. We just watched the way they move, the way different people move. Some times by watching someone you can go, 'Oh, that's what you mean by that.'
"It was a learning experience for us, it's something to strive to get up to their level. That's the key, you want to get to be the best. We've got a ways to go, but we're moving in that direction. It was a good experience for our kids."
MCC FRESHMEN Bartilla and Madison Mousel, a former Southwest High School standout, were named to the All-Region IX South Division Tournament team. The Lady Indians also received the Region IX South Division sportsmanship award for the season.