Cougars going for gold

WEST PLAINS, Mo. – The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team captured their 40th win of the season, but more importantly, the Cougars are headed to the championship match of the NJCAA national tournament in West Plains, Mo., after a four-set win over Iowa Western Community College Friday night.

The Cougars, 40-2, had three players finish with 20 or more digs and had a 21-kill performance from sophomore Danika Youngblood in registering a heart-stopping, emotion 34-32, 20-25, 25-19, 25-18 to earn a spot in Saturday's championship against No. 1 seed College of Southern Idaho.

Southern Idaho, 32-1, earned a spot in the title game by dropping San Jacinto College in four games 25-23, 27-25, 14-25, 25-20 at 5:30 p.m. The match will be available on the Internet at www.njcaavbd1.com.

WNCC will be looking for its third national title in six years. The Cougars won the title in 2007 and 2010. And, for the Cougar players they are fighting with emotion to get the title and there plenty of tears of joy as Danika Youngblood sent the final point blazing to the floor in moving the Cougars one win away from another title.

"I do not even know what to say, there are no words to describe this feeling," freshman Allora Tanner said. "We are there. We are in the championship. We are going all the way as a team and we will fight hard and fight here right now. It is coming together. We just came out tonight and fought with all our heart. We just played our game and we went forever strong together as a team."

Tanner and Taylor VanderWerff each came in off the bench to provide a spark in the later sets. It was their two kills each that help ignite the team even more. VanderWerff cannot believe how much energy there was on the court.

"We played phenomenal," VanderWerff, the sophomore from Louisiana said. "We were able to come back [many times] and the energy that we had was so amazing. This feeling is indescribable right now. There was so much energy from everybody and it was so electrifying."

There certainly was plenty of energy in the building from both squads. The last time these two squads played was back in the opening weekend of the season in August and the Reivers swept the Cougars pretty easy. The semifinal match on Friday was a battle between two talented teams as either team could have won. The difference was not only the energy level of the Cougars, but how the Cougars have come together from the opening two weekends of the season when they lost two games.

VanderWerff and Tanner said this team has grown leaps and bounds.

"This is so unbelievable of how we have come together from the beginning of the year," VanderWerff said. "Our chemistry works well together then it did in the beginning. We are a team and a family now and that is what makes this feeling of going to the championship so much better than what we were feeling in the beginning."

The Cougars' first set victory was the different in the contest. WNCC jumped out to a 5-0 lead and led by as much as 17-12. WNCC was even close to closing out the set at 24-21 before watching Iowa Western come back for a 25-24 lead. From there both squads had a number of important kills to stop match points from both teams.

In the extra play, Youngblood came up big with four big kills including the game winner to give the Cougars the set 34-32. Youngblood finished with nine kills in the set, but they also got clutch kills from Kat Agson, and some key blocks from Yoro Tovar.

The Cougars then stumbled in game two, falling 25-20. It was the third and fourth set that the Cougars defense stepped up as the defenders were digging up balls left and right. Alex Rivera, Tasha Meyer and Priscila Mendes finished with at least 20 digs in the match. Rivera had 23 digs to lead the team while Mendes and Meyer each had 20 digs.

Tanner said the defense was key.

"Alex and Tasha, along with all of were stepping up in playing our game," she said. "We had everything to lose so we just had to go out there and give it our all. We just had to go out on the court and play."

In the third set, Luiza Martins opened up a tight set with three straight service points for a 20-15 lead. WNCC then just kept strong for the 25-19 win.

The fourth set was tied at 7-7 before Mendes served four points behind two kills each from Youngblood and Agson for a 12-7 lead. Iowa Western sliced the lead to four points a couple times, but never could get any closer as Youngblood hammered home the match-winning kill.

Youngblood, Mendes, and Martins each had double-doubles. Youngblood finished with 21 kills, 10 digs, three blocks and five points; while Mendes had 10 points, 20 digs, and five kills; and Martins had 46 set assists, 18 digs, and five points.

Also for the Cougars, Alex Rivera had 23 digs and four points; Yoro Tovar had nine kills, eight points, and six blocks; Meyer had 20 digs and eight points; Tanner had five kills, and VanderWerff had two kills.

WNCC will now take on Southern Idaho for the title. The two squads met back on Aug. 31 when the Cougars handed the Golden Eagles their only loss of the year. But, for Tanner, competing for a championship means the world to her.

"I have not played for a championship before and there is a lot of emotion because of that," she said. "I have come so close yet I have not gotten there so there is a lot emotion because I have come so close and yet I never gotten there. This is a huge step with this team. I love my team. It is my family and to come out and do it with these gals would mean a lot."

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