Warriors rally past Northwestern; say goodbye to pool play
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – After three consecutive seasons of being stymied during pool play at the NAIA National Tournament, the Lewis-Clark State College volleyball team will take a leap into uncharted waters thanks to a comeback upset win over Northwestern College of Iowa on Thursday night. The No. 9-ranked Warriors rallied from a 2-0 hole to defeat the No. 4 Red Raiders in five sets 21-25, 23-25, 25-13, 25-23, 15-9.
“It’s a great feeling to get out of pool play,” LCSC head coach Jen Greeny said. “I’m really proud of this team because it has worked extremely hard.”
With both teams in a win or go home situation, there were a number of pivotal moments during the match, but none were as do-or-die as in the fourth set when the Warriors were down 21-16—just four points from elimination.
“They didn’t quit,” said Greeny of her players. “We made some plays, they made some mistakes, we made some hustle plays—effort really just took over at this point.”
A long defensive-highlight-reel of a volley ended with a kill by junior Kelli Tikker to keep hope alive and make the score 21-17. Senior Demi Dlouhy and junior Nicole Graybeal then teamed up on a block that landed right on the line to make it 21-18. The Red Raiders scored the next point, but the Warriors answered with three straight to make it 22-21. Northwestern scored again on a kill by Hillary Hanno who had a team-high 16 kills, but the Warriors stormed back with huge plays from Graybeal and junior Deddiy Alaimaleata.
Graybeal pounded a set from senior Kim Fong to make it 23-22, Alaimaleata followed with a kill to tie it up, Graybeal and Alaimaleata came up with a block to take the lead, and then Graybeal slammed a kill to the middle of the floor for the win.
“Our block picked up a little bit, and once our blocks got going we were able to play better defense,” said Greeny about slowing down Hanno who had pierced the Warriors’ defense in sets one and two. “Because of how we came back and won set four, it was tough for them going into set five.”
The fifth went much smoother for the Warriors as they went on a 6-1 run to gain a 9-4 lead, and then matched the Red Raiders point-for-point the rest of the way.
For the first time in Greeny’s four years with the Warriors, and for the first time since the NAIA initiated a pool play format, LCSC will play in the 12-team single elimination portion of the tournament.
Lewis-Clark State, now 30-2, will be pitted against Azusa Pacific University, which went 2-1 in its pool to advance. The Warriors and Cougars will square off at 8 a.m., pacific time, and the winner of this match will face No. 1-ranked Lee University at 3:45 p.m.
Lewis-Clark State and No. 8 Azusa Pacific met twice last year, once during the regular season and once during last year’s pool play. The Warriors won the first meeting, but fell to the Cougars at nationals. The Warriors’ best finish at nationals came in 1998 when they finished third overall.
“Anybody out of that conference (the Golden State Athletic Conference) is tough, and they have experience too,” Greeny said. “But we’re playing well right now, and we just need to play our tempo and our game.”
The tempo seemed to jump back and forth in the early sets against Northwestern on Thursday night, with the Warriors starting off strong yet being overcome by the Red Raiders in the latter half of each set.
LCSC commanded a 9-4 lead in the first set, but Northwestern scored seven of the next eight points to take the lead permanently.
Set two was an even bigger heartbreaker for the Warriors in that they worked to two large leads only to see them slip away to the rallies of the Red Raiders. LCSC held a 7-4 lead early on, and then had a 22-17 advantage, but Northwestern scored eight of the final nine points for the win.
“That’s so tough when you get up, and then let them get back into it,” Greeny said. “Set two was especially frustrating, but this team fought back really hard.”
The Warriors pummeled their opponent in the third set thanks to a strong attack spearheaded by Alaimaleata and Graybeal.
Alaimaleata led the Warriors with 18 kills and a .359 hitting percentage. Graybeal finished with 12 kills and a .265 hitting mark to go with five block assists. Tikker and Lauryn Herrick had 11 kills apiece, and Tikker also had 14 digs to help Katie Hinrichs who had a game-high 20 digs.
Hanno was the only Red Raider with double-digit kills as Rylee Hulstein had eight, and Kaitlin Beaver and Katie Buyert both had seven apiece.
Beaver had 40 assists in the game, while LCSC’s Fong and Alyssa Wold had 36 and 18, respectively.
LCSC ended up outhitting NWC .189 to .103, and also had a 9-4 edge in service aces.
After entering the tournament undefeated, Northwestern finishes the season at 36-2 overall. Point Loma Nazarene defeated Malone in three sets on Thursday and is the other team to advance out of the Warriors’ pool.
“We put ourselves in a tough position losing the first match to Point Loma. It’s a great feeling, but we know that there is work to be done tomorrow,” said Greeny about the team’s post-win mood on Thursday. Beyond being one of the biggest days in Warrior volleyball history, Thursday also happened to be the LCSC head coach’s birthday.
“The win today was the best birthday present you can get.”