Sept. 27, 2012
Volleyball hosts SBU, travels to Truman
By David Boyce
In the new, expanded world of the MIAA in which the number of volleyball teams has increased from 10 to 13, Northwest Missouri State is facing a quirk in the schedule this week.
It started with the Bearcats losing at home to undefeated Washburn on Tuesday in a match that was not a conference game.
“It is interesting,” said coach Amy Phelps Tuesday afternoon before the match.
Well, it is actually good that the 25-27, 25-16, 25-16, 25-17 loss to Washburn wasn’t a conference game. It keeps Northwest locked in a three-way tie for first in conference with Washburn and Central Missouri. All three teams have won their first four conference games.
The true scheduling challenge for the Bearcats occurs this weekend when they play at 7 p.m. at home Friday against Southwest Baptist and then hit the road for a 6 p.m. game at Truman on Saturday.
“It is kind of a stressful week,” said sophomore hitter Abby Graves. “We have two big tests at the end of the week. I think the focus is getting a lot of sleep, eating right and taking care of my body. Three matches is a lot to take on in one week.”
The way the season has unfolded so far this season, Phelps is certain the Bearcats will answer the challenge.
Northwest is 8-5 overall and has shown a determination to get better after a tough loss. Phelps saw this the second week of the season when the Bearcats lost 25-17, 25-19, 25-9 to then-No. 3 Southwest Minnesota State.
“We played well up until 15, 16 points per set and then they had more answer than we did,” Phelps said of that match. “We just didn’t have answers to stop them. They were mad after the Southwest Minnesota State match because they wanted to compete better against them. We just weren’t as good as a team as we are now.”
The fighting spirit in these young Bearcats probably grew even more Tuesday evening after falling to Washburn, which is now ranked No. 3 in Division II.
Northwest want to be among the conference elite. For that reason alone, the Bearcats are not getting overconfident about their fast start in conference play.
“When you start 4-0, you have to think more about how to bring them down to earth sometimes than when you are 0-4 and you are coddling them and trying to make them feel confident,” Phelps said.
“It has been a fun challenge. I’ve been able to challenge them even more in practice.”
“It all starts in practice,” said Graves.
“I think from last year we have focused on personal accountability,” Graves added. “Everybody is doing her job. At practice we evaluate where our focus is. We are really keying in on not just going through the action, but getting the most out of practice.”
Northwest will need that focus today in practice. On paper, the Bearcats should win Friday at home. Southwest Baptist is 0-4 in the MIAA and 4-10 overall.
“If we are consistent and put away the balls we need to put away, we should be able to beat them,” Phelps said. “But they always fight.
“Truman is going to be tough. It is away. It is not a pretty drive. There will be some challenges on our shoulders. I am interested to see how we step up to that. I feel like we are continuing to grow.”
Indeed. The newcomers have meshed well with the returners and that have resulted in some of the players leading the MIAA in some key statistical categories. Sophomore Brooke Bartosh is tied for first in kill average. Senior Tori Beckman ranks first in conference in digs and freshman Dallas Gardner is first in service aces.
Despite the gaudy numbers by some key players, Graves said the players know they need each other to be successful.
“We know we can’t do it by ourselves,” she said. “You forget about how old someone is or how long she has been playing volleyball. It is all about focusing in on the one goal and staying together on that.”
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