Nyden Hill – Staff Writer
Last week, the Gustie women’s volleyball team traveled to University of Northwestern in St. Paul to participate in the NCAA regional tournament. Fresh off a MIAC championship win against St. Olaf, the Gusties were riding a lot of momentum, considering they were also on a 16-game win streak.
In the first game of the tourney the Gusties faced off against UW-Eau Claire. Going into the tournament, the Blugolds, ranked 22nd in the nation, lacked the same kind of momentum as they were riding a three-game skid. Despite their current losing streak, defeating the Blugolds would be no small task for the Gusties, as they were responsible for ending the Gusties’ season last year and went on to win the 2021 National Championship.
“Refacing Eau Claire was definitely something we were excited about because we wanted the rematch and to show that we can knock out the reigning national champions,” Junior outside hitter Marlee Turn said.
From the opening set, the Gusties were dominant. Thanks to Turn, who chipped in a set-high six kills in the first set, the Gusties jumped to an early lead and held on to win the first set 25-16.
The story proved to be much the same for the second set, with the Gustie offense seeming to be firing on all cylinders. Much of this can be owed to Junior setter Kasie Tweet, who led the Gustie offense with 14 assists, and Turn who chipped in another six kills on the set.
While this boost helped the Gusties jump out to an early lead, the Gusties stalled in the third set. The score stayed close for the entirety of the set, allowing the Blugolds to squeak out a third set win while staying just far enough ahead of the Gusties to take the set 25-22. The Gusties did not look quite like themselves, Senior right side Sarah Elliot was able to make the most of the situation, leading the Gusties with eight kills in the set.
“I think what actually scored my most points was my roll shot to the middle-right side of the court. Ro really emphasizes mixing up your shots and especially hitting at their setter and this game it really paid off for me,” Elliot said.
This speed bump in the third set seemed to serve as a wakeup call for the Gusties. Here they were able to jump out to a commanding early lead and cruise to a 25-21 win. Turn and Tweet led the way offensively for the Gusties, posting career highs of 21 kills and 53 assists, respectively.
In the Gusties’ second match of the regional, they faced off against UW-Whitewater in presumably the toughest test for the Gusties since September, as the Warhawks were ranked 11th in the nation and were coming off a WIAC conference championship win.
In a close first set, the Warhawks were able to squeak out a close 25-23 win. In the second set, the Gusties jumped out to a big early lead, leading the Warhawks 17-8 at one point. While the Warhawks were able to mount a comeback, the Gusties took the set 25-22.
Unable to find an answer for the Warhawk offensive and defensive combination, the Gusties fought hard but fell to the Warhawks 25-20. Despite showing flashes of brilliance in the third set, and moments of amazing volleyball in the fourth set, the Gusties saw their season come to an end with a 25-18 loss to Whitewater in the fourth set.
Similarly to the last game, Turn and Tweet led the offense again, with 16 kills and 33 assists, respectively. Senior middle Sydney Olson also led the Gusties defensively, totaling 3 blocks in the match.
While it is sad to see the team’s season come to a close, what they have done this year is nothing short of historic. They were able to repeat as MIAC Champions in a memorable fashion, beating St. Olaf in a five set thriller while also making a respectable tournament run.
“I am extremely sad that our season is over. That being said, I’m so proud of every single person on this team and everything we have accomplished this season,” Elliot said.
Individually, Turn, Tweet, and First-year libero Maren Sundberg all made the All-Conference and All-Region Teams, with Turn being named Offensive Player of the Year and Sundberg being named Rookie of the Year. Additionally, Turn and Sundberg were named All-American third team and honorable mention, respectively.
“To me, being named an All-American in my first year is very honoring and makes me feel like I am finally proving myself of my ability and of all the years of hard work. I plan to just keep coming into the gym with the mindset that I am going to get better that day, and to be super intentional with every single practice so I can get the most out of it every day,” Sundberg said.
“Being named to the All-American third team is such an honor and I’m proud of all the hard work I have put in over the years as well as my teammates and coaches for helping me achieve this amazing accomplishment. I hope to keep improving for my next two seasons so I can keep building off this amazing season,” Turn said.
In ending their season, the Gusties finished with a final record of 26-5 (11-0) and a round of 32 regional exit. We congratulate the Gusties on their historic season and accomplishments, and wish them the best of luck as they head into the offseason.