Brady Boie – Staff Writer
To put it lightly, the Gustavus women’s volleyball team had a rollercoaster of a playoff weekend while vying for the MIAC championship. Their weekend began with a semifinal match against the St. Olaf Oles. Although the Gusties had a significantly better regular season record than the Oles, the Gustie women knew that it would be a challenge.
“We went in knowing that it was going to be a tough game… we went five with them in our conference game earlier this year… We did a really good job focusing on what we were trying to do and I think we did a good job of doing all of the little things right”, sophomore setter Kasie Tweet said.
The Gusties blitzed the Oles in set one, using a 10-2 run at the beginning of the game to dismantle the Oles. After falling behind 12-8 in set two, the Gusties battled back and tied the score at 18 apiece following a block from Sophomore Marlee Turn. The Gusties continued their excellent play and closed out the second set with a score of 25-19. They completed the sweep in the following set with a 25-18 victory.
“We went in with high expectations to have the outcome that we did… we walked into the game as a team and worked together to shut them down early on in the game”, senior Kate Holtan said.
The Gustie’s win against the Oles lead to a date with the Bethel Lions at the Gus Young Court on Saturday night. The winner would be crowned MIAC champion and advance to the NCAA tournament. As one would expect, the championship atmosphere was electric.
“It was very very loud… our coaches did say that it was the loudest they heard a crowd… I could barely hear the girls on the court. I had to yell to get their attention”, Tweet said.
Unfortunately, the large home crowd did not help the Gusties out of the gate. The Gusties fell behind early in the first set 9-5. After a quick timeout, the Gusties rallied and pulled within one after a kill by Holtan. Unfortunately, that was the closest the Gusties got as Bethel pulled away and took the first set 25-15.
“In the beginning, we were a little overwhelmed… I think part of it was adjusting the nerves of having such a big crowd”, Holtan said.
The first set loss made set two a must-win for the Golden Gusties; if the women fell into a 2-0 hole, it was unlikely that they would be able to recover. The Gusties played a back and forth set that consisted of 9 ties and 3 lead changes. Late in the game, they clung to a one point lead with the score reading 25-24. Following a kill by Emily Rossing, the Lions tied the game at 25 apiece. With the championship and a trip to the NCAA tourney on the line, the Gusties delivered. Kills by junior Sarah Elliot and sophomore Marlee Turn gave the Gusties the win.
“That set was really big in the outcome of the game. It totally could have gone differently if we were not able to take that second set… winning the set evened the floor and gave us a lot of confidence heading into the third set,” Holtan said.
The Gusties came out firing in set number three. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead and forced Bethel to take a timeout. After that, the Gusties stuck to their game plan and played great defense. Senior Hailey Embacher recorded 8 digs and helped the Gusties hold on for a 25-18 win.
With just one set between them and the MIAC championship, the Gusties shined brighter than ever. After dropping the first three points, the Gusties rattled off seven straight points; Tweet’s back to back aces put the exclamation point on the 7-0 run, and the Gusties never looked back. Holtan, the MIAC Volleyball Player of the Year, put the final nail in the coffin with an emphatic kill. The score read 25-18, and the Gusties were MIAC champions.
“It’s one of those memories you’ll never forget,” Holtan said.
Holtan finished the match with a 16 kill, 10 dig double-double and earned a spot on the All-tournament team. She was joined by Tweet, who pitched in with 14 digs and 43 assists. Gustavus will face Chicago in the NCAA tournament on Thursday, November 11 in Eau Claire.
“Chicago is a very similar team to the team we are… I think it will be another battle and another fun game,” Tweet said.