GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Tomorrow, Maranatha Women's Volleyball takes on Bob Jones University for a ticket to the national championship. The occasion is exciting enough as it is, but its significance is exponentially greater to those that know the recent history of this particular rivalry.
The teams have met just three times - once in a national semifinal, and then twice in the championship game. All in the last three years.
They have but one context in which they've lived out the rivalry: when the stakes are at the highest point of the season. The only context they know each other in has been packed with pressure. And given the results of the last two meetings, there is no doubt that the Sabercats will be gunning for some serious revenge.
This one means more.
The first time they met was in 2017 for the same match as tomorrow: the NCCAA DII National Semifinal. There was simply no stopping the Sabercats that year - they were riding the momentum and reputation of winning back-to-back national titles in 2015 and 2016, and they showed the gumption of champions that night. With a thrilling straight-set sweep. Led by the likes of Alexis Bueltel, Katie Bender, Madeline Suderman, and a freshman Claire Hansel, the Sabercats had the first laugh.
But the very next year, the Bruins changed the narrative. With the Sabercats eyeing the national fourpeat, the Bruins showed that they were quick to learn from the year before. The Bruins clawed their way to a straight-set win that night, capturing the national title and uncerimoniously ending the Sabercats' fourpeat hopes.
Then in 2019, it was the exact same scene: Maranatha battling Bob Jones inside of the Davis Field House with the national title on the line. They say it's hard to beat the same team twice in a row, but that's exactly what Bob Jones did. The Bruins needed four sets to settle the score, once again breaking Sabercat hearts.
So here's all the context you need for tomorrow: two years in a row, the Sabercats have clashed with Bob Jones in the national championship. And two years in a row, the Bruins have won.
For these two teams, the rivalry will revisit a strikingly similar scenario to its three other editions. Again, the stakes are the at the highest point of the season. Again, they will clash on Bob Jones' court in front of the BJU faithful. And while the context may be similar to what it's always been, the recent history of the rivalry still rings inside the players' minds as they prepare for the semifinal tomorrow.
This one means more.