Cougars in final four

WEST PLAINS, MO. – The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team is off to the Final Four for a ninth straight year after fighting to win two matches Thursday at the NJCAA national volleyball tournament in West Plains, Mo.

The Cougars, 39-2, opened the tournament with a 25-19, 25-19, 25-11 win over Wallace State-Hanceville behind 22 assist blocks.

WNCC then fought for their lives against North Idaho College, who defeated the Cougars back on Sept. 1. Thursday night in the quarterfinals, the Cougars received 18 kills from Danika Youngblood and 15 kills from Kat Agson to drop the Cardinals 26-24, 23-25, 25-16, 25-21 to move into the Final Four against Iowa Western Community College. WNCC and IWCC will battle Friday night at 5:30 p.m. MST.

The North Idaho contest, however, was the match of the tournament as the Cougars were getting stung by momentum-breaking calls especially in the third set where the Cougars received two yellow cards.

Agson, who had a number of thundering kills in both matches, said her team survived and stayed forever strong to move closer to a national title.

"This is unbelievable. We played our hearts out," the sophomore hitter from Houston said. "We had to lay everything on the floor. We just had to put everything to the side and play our game and play harder than we have ever played before.

"It was the biggest fight that we had to have tonight. We couldn't let up at all. All we had to do was play our game and keep fighting. Even when we had just four points to go, we had to keep fighting. We could not let up at all."

Agson said this team has been fighting all year to get wins and today showed just how much this team wants a national title with the emotion that the starters and the bench showcased against North Idaho.

"It was more emotional out there than any other game we have played this season," Agson said. "There were a couple calls that we thought we were getting cheated and of course you have to take it to heart. If you feel like you are backed into a corner, you come out fighting and that is what we had to do; we fought."

A big key in the win against North Idaho was the team's potent hitting attack. The Cougars finished with 51 kills as Agson and Youngblood combined for 33 kills. Agson, however, said that everyone got big kills throughout the match, including seven from Yoro Tovar, five from Priscila Mendes, four from Megan Johnson, and two from Allora Tanner.

"It is a huge thing for us to have big hitters. We usually rely on our defense and our serve and pass when we play our region teams. But when it comes down to the nationals, you have to come with the big guns. I think all three of us and Allora coming in, everyone did what they had to do in putting balls away. I also think Megan did a lot this game."

The Cougars also received a triple-double from Luiza Martins, who finished with 38 set assists, 10 points, and 17 digs. Youngblood had a double-double, collecting 12 digs and six points to go along with her 18 kills.

Alex Rivera finished the game with six points and 22 kills, while Mendes had nine digs and nine points; Tasha Meyer had six points and 12 digs; Tovar had six digs and 10 points.

After the Cougars lost the second set 25-23 and losing a 19-16 lead, the Cougars fought with all their heart to capture the third set. The Cougars went up 17-12 after Mendes served five points, including an ace serve and an Agson kill.

The Cougars didn't falter like they did in set two and kept fighting in avoiding North Idaho come back, going up 25-15 on a Johnson kill. After a side out, Johnson came back with another kill and then Youngblood served the final three points for the win.

The fourth set, the Cougars went up 6-2 and then later 10-5 on three Tovar points. North Idaho came back to cut the lead to 15-12, but Martins served five poimts with an Agson block and kill for a 21-12 lead.

North Idaho tried a comeback, cutting the lead to 23-18. Agson stopped the rally with a thundering kill and then Youngblood finished off the match with two kills to put the Cougars in to the Final Four.

The tourney opener against Wallace State wasn't as emotional as the North Idaho contest. Still the Cougars showed a different side of them as the team blocked with precision with 22 assist blocks and three players with double-double kills. Youngblood had a double-double with 10 kills and 13 digs, while Agson pounded home 12 kills and Tovar had 11.

The Cougars didn't open up the contest until midway through the second set. WNCC took the first set 25-19 and were actually down 6-2 and later 13-7 in the second set. That was when the momentum shifted with a bang. Luiza Martins went on a six-point service run that was aided by three big kills from Kat Agson and some timely blocking for a 14-13 lead.

The Lions tied the match at 15-15 and that was when the Cougar block party went into high gear as they shut down the Wallace State hitters for the second set. Late in the second set, Danika Youngblood, Megan Johnson and Priscila Mendes each had huge kills.

The third set was all WNCC as the Cougars jumped out to a 7 -1 lead on a Agson and Yoro Tovar block. The Cougars pushed the lead to 17-3 lead as Tasha Meyer served eight points behind fine-tuned blocking and hitting. Allora Tanner then finished off the set with a block and then served the final point for the win.

Tovar also had six assisted blocks and a solo block. Martins finished with 13 points, five assisted blocks, seven digs, and 31 set assists.

Also for the Cougars, Agson had four assisted blocks; Meyer had 13 points, an ace, and eight digs; Alex Rivera had 10 digs; Megan Johnson had two kills and four assisted blocks; and Priscila Mendes had three kills, a solo block, and seven digs.

The Cougars will face North Idaho College at 5:30 CST Thursday for a berth in the Final Four. North Idaho defeated Hutchinson Community College

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