MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota—At the end of every sports season, a coaching staff can point out specific games and moments that define the team's character, heart, and (ultimately) its success. It's highly possible at the end of this season that Coach Nihart looks back at this weekend's NCU Invitational and sees it as a turning point for his young Eagles team as they capped a two-win weekend with an exciting come-from-behind rally against the tournament's host school, North Central University.
With wins over Oak Hills Christian in the opening round and North Central in the final round, Faith improved its record to 5-3 on the season.
Round One Vs. Oak Hills Christian
Less than a week after a win over the same Oak Hills team (1-4), the Eagles beat them again in three straight sets Friday night (25-23, 25-17, 25-18). After building a 17-12 lead in the first set, Oak Hills battled all the way back to a 23-23 tie. Two errors by the Wolfpack (service error and attack error) sealed their fate and secured the 25-23 win for the Eagles.
In set number two, following a close 19-17 score, Faith closed on a 6-0 run, thanks in part to three service aces by freshman Ashley Dey.
The third set got away from Oak Hills early, as Faith built leads of 7-0 and 17-7, cruising to a 25-18 win. The Eagles had three players score double digit points with Bekah Smith (13.5), Ashley Dey (13.0), and Abby Booth (10.5). Booth led the way with 10 kills.
Round Three vs. North Central University
After falling in the second round, 3-0, to Providence, it appeared the Eagles were beginning to unravel as they lost the opening set in round number three to North Central by the score of 25-16.
Faith showed some resiliency in the second set, jumping to an early 4-1 lead, which they never relinquished. They got solid attack play from the trio of Alicia Smith, Bekah Smith, and Abby Booth who combined for eight kills.
Set number three was dominated by North Central who won by 13 points, and it looked like the Rams were well in control, needing just one more set for the win.
And then, with their backs against the wall, Coach Nihart's young Eagles learned how to fly.
Ashley Dey, a 5'6" freshman from Bunker Hill, Illinois, got things rolling for the Eagles with two kills early in the set to keep Faith in it. After trailing 11-10, the Eagles regained the lead and held it until NCU tied it at 24 apiece. Following a kill by Abby Booth, it was the freshman Dey who once again finished it off with a service ace to give Faith the win, 26-24, tying the game at two sets each.
Set number five was a back and forth thriller with seven ties and seven lead changes.
Multiple service errors and attack errors by the Rams kept the Eagles at an even pace. Faith had its first lead at 10-9, but NCU scored three straight points to go ahead 12-10. Bekah Smith had a huge kill to bring the Eagles back within one (11-12) and then two errors by NCU and a big block by Bekah Smith put the Eagles ahead, 14-12.
Just when it looked like Faith would secure the victory, North Central came back to tie it again at 14, but a bad set by the Rams and another kill from Ashley Dey secured the comeback victory for the Eagles, 16-14. Bekah Smith continued her terrific sophomore campaign with 12 kills.
With the win, Faith has now won four of its last five, with a tough matchup at Grinnell (5-4) coming up Tuesday, followed by a Homecoming matchup with Kansas Christian College (0-2) on Saturday at 11:00 a.m.