WATERTOWN, Wis. -- As the final point of the championship match fell on their side of the net, the Sabercats faced an unfamiliar reality: they had been beaten at the NCCAA national championships. But in the throes of the disappointment, the same resilience and determination that brought the senior-less team to the national finale shone through, and one thing was clear at that moment:
They'll be back.
This team thrives on pursuing excellence. The reality that a team would be disappointed with a second-place national finish speaks volumes for the high standards they hold. The coaching staff's detailed preparation reinforces that standard. The hard work of the student-athletes on a weekly basis reinforces this standard. And even their results reflect that standard: over the last four trips to NCCAA Nationals, just one team has been able to beat MBU.
That amounts to a 20-1 record at the national stage.
This group knows how it feels to win the title, so this runner-up finish will sting. But the team's experience that weekend could bode well for next year. Even when they fell short for the first time, everyone that played that weekend set a career-high mark of some sort. Whether it was passing a career milestone or notching an individual-best showing, the team left seven individual records and four team-season-highs inside the Davis Field House on the Bob Jones University campus. Couple a showing like that along with the taste of defeat, and it's just fuel for the fire.
Storming and Norming
Like most good stories, this season's was colored with challenges. The team had to grow into now-vacant leadership roles during the first half of the season, as they went through the inevitable storming stage of team identity. An early-season loss to Emmaus proved that this group hadn't found their stride yet, and other defeats in September threatened to drop the team's winning percentage below .500 for just the second time since 2010.
But the young group turned it around. Once October hit, they posted a 6-3 record through the month to set themselves up for their fourth consecutive postseason run - one that would prove memorable in its own way.
After sweeping through their regional championship without dropping a set, the Sabercats had to work harder than ever to progress through the national tournament. Down 13-9 in the fifth set against #6 Toccoa Falls, the Sabercats' season looked to be in real danger. But a 6-0 run propelled a comeback worth recalling, as the Sabercats were not only trailing in the final set but also trailed the match, 2-1. The very next day, they had to come back again, as they fell behind the powerhouse of Geneva, 2-1, before claiming two dramatic closing sets to earn the top seed from their pool.
We all know what happened after that - after beating Emmaus in a long, four-set semifinal, the Sabercats were running on fumes for the title match. Their labor to get there seemed to take its toll, as they were outlasted by the BJU Bruins, who put together an eye-catching 36-5 season and the first national title in program history.
The Blue and Gold made a strong representation on the All-American stage this year, as two of the seven first-team selections came from MBU. Claire Hansel, who completely avoided the "sophomore slump", and Kelsey Johnson, who nearly led the NCAA DIII in triple-doubles, both took home the recognition of the best in the nation. Besides that, MBU landed six on the All-Independent 1st Team from the Association of Division III Independents.
On an individual level, the Sabercats had three team members take home AD3I awards. Kelsey Johnson took home player of the year honors, McKenzie Janke was named the best Libero in the Association, and head coach Regina DeLozier earned the title of Coach of the Year for the third time in six seasons.
And those awards were well-earned. Besides the second-place finish, the Sabercats cruised their way to a 24-13 record, which included a victory at the season-opening Spikefest Tournament and an overall record of 13-2 against NCCAA DII competition. Of those 13 losses, five of them came in the fifth set of the match. All that came from a group without any seniors.
They'll be back.
At yesterday's assembly on the MBU campus, DeLozier announced the team awards, which are listed below with the other NCCAA and AD3I recognition this season.
|AD3I 1st Team All-Independent|
|Gabrielle Carpenter||Claire Hansel|
|McKenzie Janke||Karley Johnson|
|Kelsey Johnson||Jessica Ureke|
|Regina DeLozier (Coach of the Year)|
|NCCAA DII 1st Team All-America|
|Claire Hansel||Kelsey Johnson|
|Karley Johnson||Kelsey Johnson|
|Most Valuable Offensive:||Claire Hansel|
|Most Valuable Defensive:||McKenzie Janke|
|Most Valuable:||Kelsey Johnson|
|Coach's Award:||Jessica Ureke|
For more on the team, visit their team page HERE