Of course, it could have just been the team’s way of wishing coach Jennifer Greeny a Happy Birthday.
After losing the first two sets and falling behind 9-3 in the fifth set, the Warriors rallied time and again to defeat No. 11-ranked Madonna University of Michigan 23-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-20, 15-13 in the opening day of the 24-team pool play portion of the tournament.
“I told them all I wanted for my birthday was a win,” Greeny said, laughing. “That was quite a match.
“It was a great match. That’s how a match between the two middle seeds should be, down to the wire. The first two games were close. I don’t think we came out nervous or anything. I thought we came out and played really well, but they are a strong team. As the match went along we got more comfortable.”
It was a huge win for the Warriors, now 30-2 overall. LCSC is the No. 3 seed in its four-team pool while Madonna, 35-5, is the No. 2 seed. Only the top two finishers from each of the six pools advance to the single-elimination portion of the bracket, which begins Friday.
The Warriors continue pool play on Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. against Biola, which is ranked No. 2 in the NAIA. The Warriors complete pool play on Thursday against Lubbock Christian, which lost to Biola in its first match on Tuesday, also at 1:45 p.m. A win by LCSC in either match would move it closer to advancing to Friday’s single-elimination play.
LCSC, which claimed dramatic wins over
The same was true of the second set as LCSC trailed by as much as 13-6 and 20-15 before it rallied to tie it again at 22-22 on a block by senior Julie Maciboba. But again Madonna was able to close out and claim the final three points.
Madonna then appeared ready to put the match away by jumping out to an 11-8 lead in the third game. After an LCSC timeout, the Warriors responded and took the lead for good at 13-12. A kill by Maciboba gave the Warriors the 25-21 win.
“Our weaknesses are pretty obvious,” Madonna coach Jerry Abraham told a radio broadcaster in an interview after the match. “When you play five sets, those weaknesses show up. They learned about us as this match went on and took advantage of those weaknesses.”
LCSC grabbed the early lead in the fourth set, but Madonna answered with a rally of six consecutive points for a 9-6 lead. The Crusaders’ last lead came at 16-15 because the Warrior scored six of the next eight points during a stretch, led by two kills from senior Austyn Lewis, to grab a 21-18 advantage. After two kills by Maciboba, Madonna cut the lead to 23-20, but LCSC scored the final two points to claim set four and seemed to have all the momentum going into the final set.
It was, however, Madonna that set the tone with the five points. Led by 6-foot-3 senior Lubovj Tihomirova and setter Inta Grinvalds, the Crusaders pushed the lead to 9-3 and seemed to have things under control, just six points away from claiming the win.
The Warriors answered with four straight points, including two on blocks by their front row. After a Crusader kill made it 10-7, LCSC freshman Abby Bruya served the next seven points, scoring one with an ace and she also added a kill. Maciboba also had two kills and suddenly the Warriors were a point away from victory at 14-10.
Madonna, however, responded with a run of three points, led by two kills from Tihomirova, the MVP of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, to make it 14-13, before the Warriors put the match away.
“When it got down to it, I think they were just wearing down,” Greeny said of the Crusaders. “They were one of the 12 teams that had a first-round bye so they hadn’t played in three weeks. I think sitting out that long had something to do with them wearing down.
“But you have to give them credit. They played some fabulous defense tonight and they are a very good team. But we refused to give up, and I really like that about this team. They’re fighters.”
Maciboba continued her superior late-season play with a career-high 21 kills and a .347 hitting percentage. In all she was credited with 28 of the Warriors’ 88 points.
“I thought she was fantastic,” Greeny said. “She started off a little bit slow and they blocked her a couple of times, but she rallied right back. I think one of our rallies in the fifth set we went to her five times in a row. That’s just what she is doing for us, being a real go-to person.”
Anile Clemente added 15 kills and 20 digs, while Dana Christiansen added 12 kills. Bruya had 25 assists, while Lisa Davis added 23. Lindsay Scott added 18 digs.
“Dana had a great match,” Greeny said. “She had 12 kills and one hitting error in 24 attempts and hit .428. It was pretty automatic when we went to her tonight.”
For the match, LCSC hit .230, compared to .197 for Madonna. The Warriors had seven service aces, including two apiece from Bruya, Davis and Katie Hinrichs, while Madonna finished with three. LCSC also was credited with 18 blocks, compared to 12.5 for a taller Madonna squad. Maciboba led LCSC with seven blocks, while Dani Barrett had 3.5 and Lewis and Christiansen added 2.5 each.
Tihomirova led all players with 23 kills, while Mary McGinnis added 18.
LCSC is making its second straight appearance – and ninth overall – at the NAIA Tournament. Last season, the Warriors went 1-2 in pool play and failed to advance. LCSC’s best finish at nationals came in 1998 when it finished fourth.