The University of Jamestown women's volleyball team wanted one thing when they stepped on the volleyball court Saturday evening:
"I think the biggest thing for us this game was showing Northwestern what we are capable of," junior outside hitter Anna Holen said. "We're capable of winning so we are just going to keep trying to do that."
They tried and they succeeded. UJ topped Northwestern College in five hard-fought sets at Harold Newman Arena to close out the regular season at 18-1 overall and 15-1 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC).
The Jimmies' one loss came against the Red Raiders on Nov. 5. Northwestern finished out the season in the GPAC's No. 2 spot at 13-3.
"Our players really competed hard and put their hearts on the line and made some tremendous plays," UJ head coach Jon Hegerle said. "That is a tremendous team that we played so even if we had lost, I would have still felt great about our performance."
It was only fitting that the two best teams in the conference would end the season battling it out in five.
Kalli Hegerle, a first-year Jimmie, got the final frame started early for the Jimmies blocking a powerful kill from Northwestern's Anna Wedel to give the Jimmies the first point of the match. Corina Huff used her hops to jump over Northwestern's block in the middle to make it 2-0 UJ.
Huff sent two more down the middle and those combined with a Red Raiders' attack error put the team up 5-0 forcing Northwestern head coach Kyle Van Den Bosch to call a timeout in efforts to try and calm his team down.
The 60 seconds on the sidelines seemed to shift some things for the Red Raiders as the team managed to close the gap and make it 6-5 Jimmies.
But it was not enough for Northwestern.
The Jimmies gained a two-point advantage after Lacey Reitz made an error at the service line and extended their lead when Jayla Ritter pounded one past the block in the middle. Hegerle was busy using her 6-foot frame to her team's advantage, putting the Jimmies within six of match point.
UJ kept at least a two-point advantage the rest of the fifth, fueled by a scrappy defense that refused to let the ball hit the floor. UJ's senior libero, Sydney Ellingson, anchored the back half of the court with 23 balls saved while Holen shot up 18 from the No. 5 spot.
Setter Megan Gaffafney also cracked into double digits with 11 pop-ups.
"It's just so frustrating for the other team because they think a ball is down and it's not," Hegerle said of his scrappy defense. "We were locked in tonight with some great effort plays. Even if we don't get the point, those effort plays just pump our team up."
Thankfully for the Jimmies, the rest of their plays resulted in points. The fifth ended with a 4-1 run by the home team.
Some teams' arms might have been tired after four sets of swinging, but not the Jimmies, in part to Holen and those in the back row.
"Just to have defenders that are as scrappy and fast as ours, it takes so much pressure off of the front row because it is normally a perfect pass to our setters so we can transition," freshman outside Nicole Schmitz said.
Schmitz transitioned to smash 11 on the outside sending them down the line and to the deep corners. The true freshman has driven 149 balls past opposing defenses' her first season as a Jimmie.
"Adrenaline was big for me," Schmitz said of her final match performance. "I come off the bench, and the bench provides so much energy that having that in the fifth set is reassuring that we can get through it."
The Jimmies' regular season came to an irregular end due to the coronavirus pandemic, but postseason tournament play will be planned for next April.
"I am just glad that I am a part of this team because I know that we will keep grinding during this time off," Schmitz said. "We are going to be ready when it comes around in April."
University of Jamestown 3, Northwestern College 2
NWC 17 25 26 19 8
UJ 25 17 24 25 15
NWC -- Kills: Anna Wedel 15, Makenzie Fink 15, Emily Van Ginkel 13. Assists: Lacey Reitz 47. Digs: Emily Strasser 20, Reitz 11, Wedel 11. Aces: Strasser 2. Blocks: Wedel 1.
UJ -- Kills: Holen 15, Schmitz 12, Hegerle 10, Jayla Ritter 8, Corina Huff 7, Taylor Sabinash 7. Assists: Jackie Meiklejohn 30, Megan Gaffaney 19. Digs: Ellingson 26, Holen 16, Hannah Schiele 13, Meiklejohn 12, Gaffaney 12, Sabinash 3, Huff 2, Ritter 2, Schmitz 2, Hegerle 2, Ellie Holen 2. Aces: Meiklejohn 2, Schiele 1, Gaffaney 1, Holen 1. Blocks: Ritter 1, Huff 11, Hegerle 9.