By Jon Crossman
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – The postseason began with another trip to Kansas City, with the Eagles facing off against conference rivals on the familiar gym floor of Calvary University. According to several of the veteran Eagles, there was extremely high energy in the days leading up to the tournament, with this being a chance for the team to flex their significantly improved season record and exhibit the upward progress they've made. The first challenge of the conference tournament came from the ladies of Barclay College, a team that has proven in past seasons to be a very substantial opponent. Not knowing what to expect, with this being their first encounter of the season with the Bears, the Eagles gave up an early set before gaining the confidence to launch back to a 3-1 victory.
The Manhattan Thunder were now the only team standing in between the Eagles and the conference championship. The Thunder are a team that Faith has struggled to defeat all season, putting up a record of 0-2 against them prior to the tournament. This didn't stop the Eagles from putting up impressive numbers against the Thunder, maintaining a tedious back-and-forth game until Manhattan always seemed to pull away whenever both teams were tied at 18 points in a set. The Eagles' final game defeat still exhibited the fighting spirit that they've been striving to keep all season, a good sign for the upcoming regional tournament, an event that will test the Eagles more than any other competition they've faced.
The first game against Barclay was a consistent measure of attacks for both teams, with neither team surrendering a set without making the competitor fight for it. The first set loss for the Eagles (22-25) was a combination of serve errors and poor reaction time to the Bears' front row hitters, something that coach Lanny Nihart fixed for the next three sets as the Eagles went on a run (25-17, 25-22, 25-22) to close out the game. Rachel Kleczka dominated the front row, leading the game in kills (9 kills, .250%) and total attacks (32).
In the final game, the Eagles pulled out all the stops to try and overcome their defensive kryptonite, the mighty Manhattan Thunder. It was a good game of rallies, with each team stringing together a steady stream of well-connected attacks on the other side. The dooming factor for the Eagles was keeping a strong mental toughness after giving up consecutive points, leading to multiple late-set heartbreakers. The Eagles gave up all three sets (18-25, 19-25, 18-25), accepting second place in the tournament. Alicia Smith and Morgan Stephens both added to the team cover by contributing 15 digs apiece, and Krystal Wikstrom remained as a powerful centerpiece in the front row with her 9 kills to the opposing backcourt.
The Eagles have a reputation for maintaining an excellent attitude no matter the outcome and were awarded the Sportsmanship Award for the conference. Rachel Kleczka also received an individual achievement for 1st Team All-Conference, making the rest of Eagle Nation proud.
The Eagles (11-8) are back home on November 6th to begin competing in the regional tournament, starting at 7:30 p.m.