By Lucas Barlow
The opening round for the NJCAA Volleyball National Championship started Thursday morning, as No. 15 Hutchinson Community College opened play vs No. 2 Iowa Western.
Although the Reivers topped the Blue Dragons in three sets, the match was a lot closer than the score suggested. The Reivers started the first set red hot, as they jumped to an early 4-0 lead. Shortly after, the Blue Dragons came back with a run of their own, to lead 6-5.
However, it was all Iowa Western after that. They won the first set by winning 25-16, the widest margin of victory between the two opponents. The Reivers had lead the entire second set, until the Blue Dragons tied it up 20-20, after being down by four points. From there, both teams traded points, but Iowa Western managed to shake off Hutchinson, to win the second set, 25-23.
The most exciting set came in the final one of the morning. Although being down 2-0 in sets, the Blue Dragons weren’t going to back down. Hutchinson held only their second lead of the match in the early moments of the third set, leading 3-2. In a back-and-forth affair, there was four lead changes and eight ties in the last set alone. However, the Reivers pulled away late to shake off the determined Blue Dragons, 25-21, advancing to the quarterfinals later Thursday evening.
“We were a little more nervous than I thought we’d be starting out, just a little out of sync,” HutchCC coach Patrick Hall said. “We didn’t establish our middle as much as we need to, especially against a big team.”
Iowa Western played three 6-feet, 1-inch or taller.
Hall did praise the Blue Dragons for their overall clean game.
“The thing most telling about our performance was through three sets, we only had eight, nine, and five errors. Those are great numbers for us, especially against Iowa Western. I was really happy about that.”
Notable player for the Blue Dragons, sophomore Nina Pevic, said her team gave it their all Thursday morning.
“We tried our best out there and really believed in each other,” Pevic said. “We just tried to have fun. Being in the top 16 and playing in the National Championship is so exciting in itself, but the result is the result.”
Pevic lead the Blue Dragons in kills with 11, hitting an outstanding .688. Sophomore Paige Hiebert had eight kills and two assists. Sophomore Katie Jorn tallied 26 assists and three kills. Iowa Western’s Caitlyn Cooper lead the Reivers in kills with 21. Irina Alekseeva had 14 kills.
The Blue Dragons will continue tournament play, as they compete in the consolation bracket on Friday at 10 a.m. They will take on St. Petersburg, Florida.