Oct. 11, 2011
Graves and Bearcats ready to bring their best for Pink Out
If you can only attend one home volleyball match this season at Northwest Missouri State, Wednesday night's contest is the one.
The Bearcats, 8-10 overall and 2-3 and fourth place in the MIAA, take on No. 7 Central Missouri, at 7 p.m. at Bearcat Arena in their annual "Pink Out" night, which brings awareness to breast cancer.
"It gives you a little something extra to play for," said freshman hitter Abby Graves. "I have a couple of family and friends who have been affected by breast cancer. It's a little reminder. Play for them, follow their fight and learn from them."
If this year's "Pink Out" match is anything close to last year's thrilling five-set victory over ranked Washburn, those planning on coming to just this match might want to redo the rest of their fall schedule to make more trips to Bearcat Arena to see the Northwest volleyball team.
Graves is one of several freshmen who are injecting more spirit into a program coming off its best season ever.
With the loss of so many key seniors from last year's squad, head coach Jessica Rinehart realized there would be some growing pains and some tough losses early on.
But Rinehart banked on the youngsters learning from one match to the next and soaking in some of the knowledge from seniors Laira Akin and Alex Hanna.
Last week the Bearcats showed their growth. After losing a tough five-setter at Missouri Western on Tuesday, Northwest won a five-set match at home against Truman, one the perennial powers in the MIAA.
"After we lost in the fifth set, that's all we practiced," Graves said. "We went over situations. You have to prepare mentally for it. We were finally able to say, ‘yes, we won that fifth set.' It gives you a lot of confidence."
Despite going 1-1, last week might have been the best week so far for the young Bearcats, even better than the three matches they won in row at the Pittsburg State Regional Challenge Sept. 30-Oct. 1.
Before last week, the Bearcats had not played in a five-set match.
On Wednesday, Northwest will find out how much they have improved since last week. Central Missouri is 16-3 overall and a perfect 6-0 in the MIAA, tied for first with Washburn.
Graves said the Jennies are very consistent. It's a must for the Bearcats to play at a high level throughout the match to be successful.
"We are playing Central at a good time," Rinehart said. "We have continued to get better and better each week. We still haven't reached our peak. It would be awesome to peak against Central. We want to be competitive and continue to get better. The bulk of our conference season is still ahead of us."
With all the excitement expected in Bearcat Arena, something magical could definitely happen, just like it did last year against Washburn.
Coaches and players always like focusing on the next game and leaving past results in the past.
But last year's "Pink Out" match was so special that it brings a smile to Rinehart's face at the mere mention of it. Even Graves can talk about the match and she was still in high school.
"It was fantastic for me to see our team reach the peak of what they were capable of reaching," Rinehart said. "It was great to see smiles on all their faces after we were done. It was a great reward for the hard work they put in. I was really thrilled that they got to experience that type of environment in addition to the win."
Added Graves, "there is the picture of everybody in the middle of the court screaming their heads off, there are references of how we beat Washburn last year. We all definitely heard about it."
The 2011 Bearcats are starting to create their own sweet memories. Even in losses, they have been fun to watch and Graves is just one reason why.
Graves is smaller than most hitters in college volleyball, but she already hits the ball as hard as anyone in the MIAA. The enthusiasm she shows after a big kill is infectious.
Sometimes she does not realize how excited she gets after a monster kill.
"I don't know what I do. My emotions take over," she said.
Win or lose, the young Bearcats should gain from the experience of playing one of the best volleyball programs in Division II.
It should help them for the 12 MIAA matches they still have left after Wednesday.
"I feel like every game you learn something new and pick up something new," Graves said. "You get reminders that those little things do make a difference. Looking back on tough games is really helpful. All the teams in the MIAA are so tough. You got to pick up everything and learn as much as you can."
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