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JOURNEY ENDS: Jimmies fall to V-Hawks in NAIA tiebreaker

University of Jamestown's Corina Ruud (10) sends a kill to the floor past Saint Xavier's Alex Lambros (7) on Thursday, Nov. 29, during NAIA national championship pool play at Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Sean Johnson / For The Sun

Thursday's rollercoaster of emotions ended in heartbreak for 24th-ranked University of Jamestown women's volleyball at Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

On the morning after, approximately 12 hours since the Jimmies' season ended 25-21 to Viterbo University (Wisc.) in a win-or-go-home, single-set tiebreaker that concluded NAIA national championship pool play for Jamestown, the pain could still be felt in the voice of UJ head coach Jon Hegerle.

It's a pain in which the veteran coach is all too familiar. The Jimmies' 2016 trip to the national tournament final site in Sioux City ended the exact same way: a 25-23 tiebreaker loss to Missouri Baptist in a race to 25 to advance to the round of 16 elimination bracket.

"You just try to get into game mode. It's tough to do," said Hegerle, whose Jimmies fell to the seventh-ranked V-Hawks at around 11 p.m. Thursday—roughly eight hours after UJ swept Saint Xavier (Ill.) to finish pool play at 2-1. "We've done this twice now, and both times our teams have had tremendous energy and spirit.

"The are really supercharged games," Hegerle continued. "I don't feel like we were shortchanged as far as losing the match. That's just the way it goes."

Be that as it may, the Jimmies defined what national tournament sports are normally all about on Wednesday, executing a perfectly designed game plan and knocking off a higher-ranked opponent when it dominated Viterbo 25-18, 25-12, 25-13. That win should have arguably defined a young, and maybe overachieving, 2018 Jimmies.

But after a second impressive victory over Saint Xavier on Thursday—28-26, 32-30, 25-13—fate was out of the Jimmies' hands. Viterbo would go on to defeat 10th-ranked Southern Oregon 3-2—after trailing in the match 0-2—and Jamestown, Viterbo and Southern Oregon would all finish Pool G tied at 2-1.

Southern Oregon advanced to the round of 16 via the best set winning percentage among the tied teams, while Jamestown and Viterbo—tied at three set wins each—headed to a tiebreaker. Southern Oregon swept Jamestown 3-0 to open pool play on Tuesday.

"It was tough, especially with the way it worked out," Hegerle said. "We knew that we could be in (the round of 16), and Southern Oregon goes up 2-0 on Viterbo in that final pool-play match. Then everything turned around and it just gave Viterbo so much momentum. It was a rollercoaster of emotions for us."

Viterbo scored the first three points of the single-set tiebreaker, but the Jimmies fought back to lead 6-5 before tying the set at 10-10. A kill by Viterbo sophomore middle Lydia Xu broke the tie and Viterbo would stay in command the rest of the way, though never leading by more than four points.

"There were a lot of good rallies and I was proud of our players," Hegerle said. "We competed hard and Viterbo really defended well and passed better than they had the first time we played them."

Hegerle's tone brightened as the conversation shifted back to what the Jimmies, and seniors Julina Niemeier, Kennedy Conzemius and Kori Buchanan, accomplished in 2018. Jamestown reached the NAIA round of 16 for the first time in 2017, but lost seven key players from that squad, including All-Americans Haley Glasoe, Madison Wendel and Elise Peterson.

Jamestown wound up finishing its first Great Plains Athletic Conference season at 24-9 overall and with a third consecutive trip to nationals in Sioux City. Plus, a ton more returns for Hegerle and the Jimmies in 2019.

Isabel Wedell carried the Jimmies at times this week, and she'll be back for her senior season after posting a team-leading 229 kills. Middle Britta Knudson (142 total blocks, 214 kills) will also return, along with setters Miranda Lowman and Jackie Meiklejohn and a host of up-and-coming talent.

Niemeier, the GPAC libero of the year, finished her career sixth on UJ's all-time career digs list with 1,508. The Jamestown athlete scored 645 digs her senior season, also sixth all-time.

"Exceeding expectations was maybe the word used in the locker room," Hegerle said. "It was a team that knew they had ability, but maybe really didn't know just how good they were. That was the journey, coming to the belief that, 'Hey, we're a good team.'

"They played at a whole other level at this tournament."

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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