The NMU volleyball team went into this season with a goal to make the regional level of the national tournament.
And now, as the season funnels to that time of the year, the ‘Cats have achieved this goal with a No. 5 ranking.
Head coach Dominic Yoder said his team should be proud of its accomplishment.
“I think they are very excited and they’ve reached one of their goals,” he said. “Not only did they want to make it to this level, but they wanted to be a high seed and they are and they should be very proud of that fact.”
On Friday, Nov. 21 in the first round of competition, NMU squares off against No. 4 Indianapolis.
The ‘Cats have split with the Greyhounds in two prior matches this season, with a 2-3 loss in September and 3-0 win in the GLIAC -Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Crossover Tournament in October.
The Wildcats come off a week where they were swept by SVSU 3-0 in the conference semi-finals, but despite not making the championships, NMU players still earned league accolades.
Junior outside hitter Mandie Meyer was selected to second team and senior outside hitter Daniela Bezerra was named honorable mention.
Senior middle hitter Caryn VanBeckum was also selected with first team honors.
“It feels good to be honored like that. But I could not have done it without the team, of course, and the coaching staff,” VanBeckum said. “So it definitely is an award for them too, and they should be honored as well, because it’s not just a one-person show out there on the court.”
VanBeckum is second on the team for kills, with 311, and her presence on the court will be a larger factor against the Greyhounds, Yoder said.
VanBeckum said the talent and the skill of IU are not to be overlooked on Friday.
“We just need to stay focused on what we are doing,” she said. “Also we need four and five players on the court playing their best and not just one or two.”
To add to the play on the court, Bezerra will return after missing the majority of the past three games with an ankle injury.
“Having one of your starting players in the lineup is always a boost in your confidence, not just for her but the entire team,” Yoder said.
With Bezerra back in the lineup, the ‘Cats regain their third highest attacker statically and she could bring a much-needed boost in morale after Friday’s conference playoff loss to SVSU.
“When you lose to somebody you want to play them again. You want to get another shot,” Yoder said. “No matter how many times you get knocked down you still have to get back up. And you have to be willing to get back up.”
VanBeckum said though the team will use the loss against SVSU as motivation, she doesn’t think they will dwell on it.
“We have moved on. It would have been nice to get that win and move into the conference finals, but we’re into the regional tournament and that is what matters,” she said.
If the ‘Cats want to be successful this weekend, they must overcome either Grand Valley or Saginaw Valley – the only two teams that beat them in league play.
Bezerra said if the Wildcats stay focused, they can overcome these teams and move up the ladder at the national level.
“If we try and play like champions, we should be champions,” she said.
But this is a lofty order for the Wildcats and in a single elimination tournament no one can really predict the outcome.
“We still live another day and we still play another match,” Yoder said. “And now it’s single elimination. You play one match at time and try to live and play another day.”
The national tournament is made of 64 teams in eight regions and the top eight teams from each region qualify.
NMU earned its No. 5 ranking by finishing 20-11 overall and 11-5 in league play. In the GLIAC- GLVC region the winner will represent the Midwest in the quarterfinals of play on Dec. 4.
The match against Indianapolis will start at 5 p.m. and the next match is Saturday against the winner of Grand Valley vs. Northwood.
But the Wildcats are not thinking too far into the future, because the tournament is single elimination and if they lose, their season is over.
“It is a crazy feeling that if we lose we are done,” Bezerra said. “But I think we are going to do the best we can and this is what we worked for all year.”
(to view the NCAA tournament bracket, click here)