Cougars clench 18th straight Region IX title
     2016-11-11      By Media Report   
Courtesy photo The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team celebrates its 18th straight regional title. Front row from left: Bia Berti, Lauren Shaul, Lara Picht, Genesis Benitez, Brooke Kaawa, and Kadara Marshall; middle row: Kirstie Trees, Barbara Briceno, Larissa Perez, Maraea O'Connor, Danika Daum, Alwaise Villa, Coach Binny Canales; back row: Assistant Coach Whitney Roth, Bailey Foiles, Kaylee Spreier, and Joise Maldonado. 
LAJUNTA, Colo. — The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team still own the Region IX South tournament, capturing their 18th straight regional title with a sweep over Northeastern Junior College in the championship Saturday afternoon in La Junta, Colorado.

The Cougars, who finished with 46 kills, topped the Plainswomen 25-16, 25-23, 25-20. The win moves the Cougars to 34-3 on the season. More importantly, the Cougars are making their 18th straight trip the national tournament Nov. 17-19 in Casper, Wyoming. The 18 straight years in the longest active streak in Division I volleyball.

Kaylee Spreier, who finished the championship match with seven kills, 1 ½ blocks, eight points, and six digs, said this win feels good right know.

“It feels good. We put in the work all season to get here. It feels good to accomplish our goal,” the Gering graduate said. “I am glad we added on to the 18-year streak and everyone came to support us at nationals.”

Saturday’s win was one where the team played well from all facets of the game. The Cougars got clutch hitting, blocking, and pin-point passing to get the win.

“I think we had one of our best games,” Spreier said. “Our passing has improved over the season and that is what we need to win games.

Passing was one key element in the win as three players finished with double-figure digs, led by Barbara Briceno and Brooke Kaawa with 18 each and Genesis Benitez with 12. The Cougar’s only had one passing error in the match.

Passing, however, was only one element in the Cougar win. They also cut down the considerable hitting and service errors from previous matches. And everyone contributed in different aspects.

“It was big that everyone contributed in the way they should,” Spreier said. “Our passers did great and then we could get the sets to everybody and the hitters could put them away. That was a big reason for our success today.”

The team entered the match focused, knowing it was going to be a tough match. In the end, WNCC earned a sweep over a NJC team that has been pesky in the previous matches with the Cougars.

“I thought we were pretty focused this game,” Spreier said. “Normally we mess around and stuff and before the game everyone was a little more series. We knew it was going to be a fight all the way through.”

WNCC controlled the first set from the get-go as Kaawa served four points for a 7-2 lead and WNCC doubled the Plainswomen 18-9 on two Benitez points. WNCC won the first going away 25-16.

The second set was more of a battle with NJC leading7-6 early and then 21-20 late. It was back and forth from there as WNCC retook the lead at 22-21 on a Spreier point only to watch NJC come back for a 23-22 lead.

Picht came back with a kill and then Bia Berti served the final two points for the 25-23 win.

The third set saw NJC bolt to a 13-9 lead and led 17-13 at one point. WNCC fought back to grab a 19-18 lead on kills by Picht and Briceno. NJC went back in front 20-19, but Picht hammered home a kill and then Spreier served out the match with five points along with four kills from Picht.

Briceno, who was named Region IX South Player of the Year, finished with 18 digs, 12 kills, eight points and an assist block. Picht had 18 kills with five points and four digs; Kaawa had 18 digs with five kills, six points, and three set assists; Bia Berti had 36 set assists, seven digs, five points, and four kills; Benitez with 12 digs and five points.

Several players also earned post-tournament honors. Briceno earned player of the year while Binny Cannales was named coach of the year. The Freshman of the Year went to NJC middle blocker Victoria Macaluso. The Libero of the Year went to Lamar’s Andreia Bomfim.

Four Cougars made all-region team. Those getting recognition include Briceno, Picht, Kaawa, and Spreier.

Five Cougars were also tabbed to the all-tournament team. They included Briceno, Kaawa, Picht, Berti, and Benitez.

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