Cougars volleyball runners up at National jr. college tourney
     2015-11-24      By The Gering Citizen    editor@geringcitizen.com
Courtesy photo Kaylee Spreier goes up for a kill against Southern Idaho. The six foot product from Gering High School had 58 kills overall on the season and was brought in several times during the title match. 
It wasn’t the way the Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team wanted to end the NJCAA National tournament as runners-up, but deep down the Cougar season was one of championship caliber.

Saturday night’s championship match with the College of Southern Idaho featured two championship teams. WNCC gave it their all and then some, but in the end the Golden Eagles came away with an exciting win for them and an emotional loss for the Cougars 25-22, 21-25, 24-26, 25-22, 15-9.

The WNCC players have no reason to hang their heads with the way the Cougars played in the national tournament after sweeping Yavapai College, then beating a talented Missouri State West Plains in four games, and then dropping No. 3 Northwest College in the semifinals.

WNCC’s championship appearance was the team’s fifth since 2006 and the last time was 2012 when CSI downed the Cougars.

For a Cougar team that came together primarily in head coach Binny Canales’ second year, playing 10 five-game matches this season and beating a number of ranked teams, it was a season of more highs than lows. WNCC finishes the season 42-5, a season when WNCC won its 17th straight Region IX title and competed in the Final Four at nationals for the 10th time in 12 years.

“It was an awesome experience to be able to do this with my team,” said freshman Kaylee Spreier, who finished the championship match with five kills, three solo blocks, and three assisted blocks. “The atmosphere was great; (it was like) nothing that I have experienced before.”

The national tournament run was one of excitement for the Cougars. At the beginning of the year the goal was to earn a national tournament.
WNCC came close, but sometimes the cards aren’t in the deck. Still, Canales is proud of this team.

“I think the girls really grew throughout the season. They competed.
They fought. “They had brains. They had heart. And I am really proud of them.

“Our goal was to get here and we did. The girls fought hard and we are really proud of them. We finished 42-5 and the five losses were tight games. I think we can compete with anybody in the country and that is what we want to maintain for next year.”

WNCC played the tournament like true champions with grit and determination, something that Spreier loves about this team.

“We were fighting every match and we came together as a team and fighting our hearts out,” she said. “We did the best we could and I am proud of us.”

WNCC dropped the first game 25-22 after leading 21-18 at one point.
After losing the first, the Cougars weren’t about to fold against Southern Idaho.

Game two was a battle. CSI led 19-18 before Lara Picht had three straight kills and the Cougars stayed tight for the 25-23 win.

Game three was just as much a heartpounder. CSI held a 19-17 lead but Spreier had a kill and Keala Kaio-Perez had three points for a 21-19 lead. CSI went up 24-23, but the resilient Cougars came back as Jady Gerotto had a block and then served two points, including an ace on game point to win 26-24.

Game four was the one that no one wants to read about. WNCC controlled the game in the early going, running to a 10-5 lead behind a solo block by Spreier and then the Gering graduate had a kill. WNCC led 17-9 before a CSI timeout.

After that, something happened and the momentum switched. The Golden Eagles came back, tying the game at 21-21. WNCC got a Gerotto kill, but a missed serve gave the ball back to CSI who won the fourth 25-22.

CSI jumped out to a 6-0 lead in game five and led 10-5 before WNCC put one last run in, slicing the lead to 10-8 on two Gerotto points. That was as close as they could get and CSI won the title in come-from-behind fashion.

Spreier said even with the loss, they had an outstanding season.

“It was an awesome season,” she said. “We had a bunch of ladies from different countries and we found a way to come together.”

Neither team really hit the ball well. WNCC finished with a .206 hitting percentage while CSI was at .211. WNCC had more kills then CSI, tallying 66 kills compared to just 63 for CSI.

The Cougars were led by Barbara Briceno with 18 kills and 18 digs.
Gerotto also had 16 kills and three solo blocks, while Picht had 15 kills.

Fabiana Andrade finished with 56 set assists, 16 digs, and three kills.
Maraea O’Connor tallied nine kills and four aces, while Keala Kaio-Perez had 13 digs; Fautino Manu 10 digs, Katy Ernest 12 digs and two aces.
WNCC also garnered post tournament honors as Andrade and Gerotto were named to the All-Tournament team.

Tournament MVO Tawnee Lusfalemana of CSI finished the tournament with championship with 18 kills to pace the Golden Eagles
WNCC will lose five sophomores next year and each had stellar seasons this year. WNCC will say goodbye to Andrade, Manu, Ernest, Kaio-Perez, and Santanna Mitchell. All five saw action in the championship match.
They will be missed but WNCC returns the nucleus of its hitters for next year.

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