Nov. 8, 2011
‘Cats send seniors out with 3-1 win over Gorillas
By David Boyce
Alex Hanna arrived at Northwest Missouri State four years ago from Red Oak, Iowa. A year later, Laira Akin joined the Bearcats after spending her freshman year at Marquette.
Together, they leave Bearcat Arena as winners.
“It was great. They deserve it,” Northwest coach Jessica Rinehart said. “I wanted nothing more for them than to finish on their home court with a W. I was pleased the way the night went and the way they both performed.”
In their last ever volleyball match at Bearcat Arena, Hanna and Akin helped Northwest to a resounding 25-16, 20-25, 25-20, 25-17 victory over Pittsburg State Tuesday evening.
“This was everything we could ask for,” said Hanna, who finished with eight kills. “It was a great senior night. Everybody came to play and play for us and it was awesome.”
Said Akin, “We knew this team was capable of really good things and tonight we put it together for one good match. That is what we wanted to do. We wanted to take it one point at a time, one set at a time. We played solid volleyball. It was good going out playing the way we knew this team can play.”
It was a perfect ending for the pair who has spent this season helping a talented, but young group learn how to be competitive in an ultra competitive conference.
Of course, Hanna and Akin would have loved to experience the magic of last season when the Bearcats made their first-ever regional appearance.
With the loss of so many seniors from a year ago, it wasn’t realistic for Northwest to duplicate last year.
“Our goal,” Akin said, “was to show them what leadership is so they know going into next year how a team should be led. We wanted to leave behind the things that they can carry on despite our win-loss record.
“We wanted to show them a never give up mentality. This match was evident of it. They carried a huge load tonight. A lot of pressure was put on them at the beginning of the season when we asked three freshmen to start. They put it together for us tonight. It means a lot to us.”
Despite a 12-17 overall record and 6-10 in the MIAA, Hanna and Akin have done their part this season to build a foundation that will keep Northwest in the upper half of conference for years to come.
“They provided good leadership,” Rinehart said. “They came to compete every single time they stepped on the court. They had a drive to be very successful and just a sense of urgency that every single point in every single match mattered. That’s hard to grasp as a freshman because you don’t quite get the big picture.”
Hanna and Akin still have two matches left at Northwest. The Bearcats conclude their season with road games at Southwest Baptist on Friday and Missouri Southern on Saturday.
If Northwest can win both of those matches, they could finish fifth.
As for Tuesday night’s match, the Bearcats proved that when they are on their game, they can be tough. They scored the first three points, jumped to a 15-9 lead and won the first set 25-16.
In the next set, Northwest displayed some of the inconsistency it has experienced throughout the season. With the set tied 13-13, the Bearcats went through a period in which they could do little right. They fell behind 20-15.
It turned out to be a one set hiccup. The Bearcats completely dominated the next two sets with solid passing and efficient hitting.
“We went into the locker room and we reminded them that we were in control,” Akin said. “Our mistakes caused the downward slide in set two. We were able to come back and take control and set the tone.”
The finish almost had a Hollywood ending. Hanna hit a thunderous kill to give Northwest a 24-16. Hanna then got to serve. A scripted ending would have had her serving an ace.
Hanna must have felt the excitement and hit the serve out.
“I think I wanted it too much,” Hanna said. “The adrenaline was going and I thought I would get it down for the game-winning point. It didn’t work out, but I swung for it anyway.”
The ending was still fitting. Akin delivered a perfect set for freshman Brooke Bartosh and Bartosh put it away, giving Akin her game-leading 46th assists.
“I looked at Laira. This one is for you,” Bartosh said. “It was the perfect set and a good hit, too.
“They provided leadership and just held the team together. You could always count on them.”
Akin has plenty to look forward to in the future. She is getting married in June and she has been offered a job at Garmin.
“This experience has been great,” Akin said. “I was welcomed here like family. I made life-long friendships here. The seniors that graduated last year, we all still keep in contact. I will keep in contact with Alex for years to come.
“Things are coming together. I’m finishing up volleyball. I found the guy to spend the rest of my life with and I got a job.”
Hanna will graduate in August with a double degree in Marketing and Public Relations. She plans to attend Law School once she gets her Bachelors Degree.
“I felt like I had a great four years,” Hanna said. “There were a lot of trials and tribulations. I went through a coaching change. Overall, I had the best time of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
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