Winning seasons are the ultimate compliment to a team and their coaches, however, they are not easy to obtain! The Eagles volleyball team and coaches realized it would take a blue collar type approach to achieve positive results in 2018. The final 13-12 winning record was obtained through player role adaptations and success in fifth set matches.
"We really pulled out some tough fifth set wins on three different occasions. In each of those final sets, we found ourselves down but fought hard through difficult situations. Sometimes the difference between a winning and losing season in volleyball is winning those matches", noted coach Lanny Nihart.
The Eagles entered the 2018 campaign with only freshmen and sophomores. There was the need to replace 7 upperclassmen, 3 starters, a large percentage of offensive impact, and the setter position. Using a number of rotations and implementing two new setters, the Eagles were able to start the season at 2-2 while competing in the challenging Spikefest Tournament. The Eagles improved their record to 5-3 after entering non-conference play and competing in a challenging tournament hosted by Division III North Central University.
"We made good progress early in the year in our defensive and offensive strategies all the while changing rotations! Early success allowed us to move into conference play with a level of confidence and gained experience. However, the coaching staff knew challenges would be coming and ultimately the need to place players in the most effective positions," stated Nihart.
Over the course of the next 12 matches, the team would reset the setting position, deal with injuries and finalize the season-ending rotation. Individual players were required to adjust to different defensive and offensive role positions. The result was 5-3 against non-conference and 2-4 against conference teams.
The Eagles finished a disappointing fourth place in MCCC conference play and looked to improve during the year-end conference tournament. Faith was defeated by Barclay 3-0, which was a team that Faith had defeated during the regular season. "We met a team in Barclay that was gaining momentum. In fact, they would go on to play top-ranked Emmaus very strong in the semi-finals and defeat nationally ranked Manhattan in regional play. That match demonstrated to our team the need to be mentally prepared each match and exposed the need for all players to give 100% to the roles assigned," noted Nihart. Captain Alicia Smith and sophomore Bekah Smith received well deserved 2nd team MCCC All-Conference honors.
Another positive impact from MCCC participation was receiving the Sportsmanship Award for the second consecutive year. Coach Nihart understood the significance of the award. "During 2018 we often referenced Nehemiah's perseverance, unselfishness and ability to lead the Jewish people to obey God's commands and have a distinction from the people around them. Not only did Nehemiah have to rebuild a wall around the city, he had to rebuild a people to the point where they could stand on their own as an independent nation, following God's lead. I am thankful for the character demonstrated by the 2018 Eagles on and off the court." The Eagles also participated in volunteer work during whiffle ball games held at the Miracle Park in Ankeny for disabled children and adults.
A number of Eagles received year-end NCCAA and ACCA national recognition for their play on the court. Captain Alicia Smith, Bekah Smith and Abby Booth received 2nd team NCCAA All North Region honors. The trio also received ACCA national recognition with Alicia Smith leading the way with 1st team ACCA All American honors, Bekah Smith 2nd team, and Abby Booth honorable mention.
"While no career or seasonal records were established, we finished the 2018 campaign playing solid competitive volleyball. A goal we continued to remind ourselves with was to, with a clear conscience, know in the offseason we gave all the effort possible to our individual roles for the team. I am certain we can look at each other and be grateful for all the Lord accomplished through our volleyball team," stated coach Nihart.