That’s been the 2012 season in a nutshell for LCSC: a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, with the highs of a year-long spot in the national rankings and an 11-4 conference record tempered by fits of inconsistency and losses against less talented teams.
All that is in the past now, and the Warriors are preparing for this weekend’s conference tournament as the top seed, and aiming for a spot in an NAIA national tournament play-in match.
The Warriors begin their postseason journey with a match on Friday at 11 a.m. Pacific time against the winner of Thursday’s play-in match between eighth-seeded Montana Western and No. 9-seed Dickinson State. The winner of that match will play a semifinal on Saturday morning against the winner of MSU-Northern and Montana Tech.
The championship match will be at 6 p.m. Pacific on Saturday night.
Second-year Warrior coach LaToya Harris said that her team won’t be doing any sightseeing this weekend in Butte, Mont., where Montana Tech is hosting the tournament. It’s all business.
“We’re really focused,” Harris said. “You’re always excited to play, but we’re just really focused. We won our conference, but the match after knowing we won was not a great one for us. We know the conference tournament is open for anyone.”
The winner of this weekend’s tournament gets an automatic spot in a play-in match, a round of 12 loser-out games that precedes the 24-team national tournament that takes place from Nov. 27-Dec. 1 in Sioux City, Iowa.
The top 12 teams in the Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball Coaches’ Poll earn byes past the play-in round. The Warriors are ranked 28th in the current poll, so even if they win the tournament this weekend, they’ll almost assuredly have to get through a play-in match before Sioux City.
Carroll is ranked 36th in the nation, so the Saints will probably need to win the conference tournament to get into the NAIA Championship picture as well.
The Saints, who are the No. 2 seed and play Westminster in their first-round match on Friday at 4 p.m., have confounded the explosive Warriors this year with their relentless consistency.
“They’re style of play is completely different than a lot of the teams that we’ve seen,” Harris said of Carroll. “They just get the job done. They don’t worry about athleticism and they don’t jump out of the gym, but they do the little things and just get it done. They’re consistent with that and it makes them difficult to play against.”
Harris said that the Warriors’ struggles this season have arisen from inside their own heads.
“It’s just the mental aspect of the game that has made us into an up and down team the majority of the time,” she said. “We’ve done enough reps touching the ball that it’s muscle memory, but when teams come back at us and hit a ball straight down, instead of looking sad about it we have to fight back. We’ve had to grow mentally. Nationals is not an easy place to go, and our whole mindset has changed. We’re playing harder in practice and pushing each other more.”
Harris said that this past week of practice has been LCSC’s best of the season, and the team seems to be primed to put it together.
Offensively, the Warriors boast more offensive weapons than any team in the Frontier Conference, and Harris wants all those hitters to be brought to bear this weekend.
“Sometimes when things are tight in game situations we’ve eased back on the power just to keep balls in,” Harris said. “We’ve done a lot of individual work focusing on power, and regardless of whether or not a game is close, we want to bring the heat. We have strong hitters all the way around, and if we utilize every single one, other teams won’t know what we’re going to do. We want to keep moving fast to be available on every ball.”