As seasons progress challenges come in all forms to athletic teams as the Faith volleyball team learned this past week. The Eagles captured third place, however it was not easy as they received a strong challenge from host Central Christian College. Faith won easily in the quarterfinals of the MCCC Conference Tournament over Emmaus Bible College 3-0 and then experienced two very exciting semi and consolation matches.
Advancing to the semi-finals Faith met #2 conference seed and #5 NCCAA nationally ranked Manhattan Christian College. Faith played strong from the outset by matching the Thunder's powerful offense with a strong defensive presence. Faith had a season high of 29.25 per set which included a high number of executed first ball saves. "We are identified as a defensive minded team and our coaching staff was pleased with the effort we gave against a very high power offense. Manhattan has a number of ranked hitters but our ladies took on the challenge," remarked coach Lanny Nihart.
Faith led through much of the first set only to fall short 28-26. As they have done all year the Eagles regrouped and won set two 25-20 by increasing their hitting percent nearly 15%. Freshmen outside hitter Emily Wolfe had one of her more energized matches and led the Eagles in hitting along with first team all-conference Kimberly Post. "Emily did not have her highest attack % but was able to find some key spots for kills which is her potential every match. Kim has been very consistent all year and proved her 1st team all-conference selection," noted Nihart. Manhattan reestablished their offensive attack while the Eagle's struggled with serve receive errors to capture set three 25-18. Faith kept within range of the Thunder at 15-13 and 18-17only to experience four consecutive serve receive errors. Again, in set four the Eagles kept close only to fall short 25-21. Post led Faith with 12 kills and four solo blocks while Wolfe added 10 kills and 16 digs. Senior setter and captain Stephanie Knupp had 35.
The Eagles then played host Central Christian College for the third time this season for third place. The beginning of the match was a mirror of the previous two Eagle victories with Faith taking set one 25-20 and set two 25-11. "This match showed our ladies why you play hard 100% of the time. Central Christian did a great job of responding in sets three and four and in some ways deserved the win," noted Nihart. In set three Faith's hitting percent dropped to 10.8% and defensively only had 21 digs in a 25-15 loss. Set four was much of the same with the Eagles recording a negative hitting percent (-.20%) and again struggling with Central's offense. "Central could do no wrong and had all the momentum and their crowd provided great support and we were definitely reeling. My assistant (Erin Davis) suggested we leave the gym between sets four and five and refocus which was a significant suggestion and helped us to get out of the environment and refocus!" noted Nihart. Faith started set five quickly gaining 5-1 and 8-2 leads before Central made one more push to get within 5 at 11-6. The Eagles then received timely kills from Alyssa Larson and Post to complete the 15-8 set and match win. Larson contributed 16 kills while Post had 15 kills and six solo blocks. Junior Kimberly Post was selected to the MCCC All-Conference first team, senior Stephanie Knupp to second team and junior JoJo Hodak received honorable mention.
Prior to returning to Ankeny, the Eagles had the opportunity to minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Ottumwa, Iowa. The team taught several Sunday school and children church lessons and presented musical instrumental and voice specials, and testimonies during the morning service. "Encouraging local churches through ministry is the most important team event we experience during our season. The ladies did an outstanding job of sacrificing extra time beyond normal practice and game events to prepare lessons and special numbers. It reflected the character of our team of being athletes submitted to serving Christ on and off the court," noted Nihart.
Faith enters as the regional tournament as the #2 seed and will play #3 North Central University at 7:30 PM on Tuesday with the championship slated for Wednesday at 3:00 PM. The winner advances to the NCCAA National Tournament held in Kissimmee, Florida November 13th to 15th.