By Jon Crossman
ANKENY, Iowa – The season ended on a bittersweet note for the Eagles, as they got to host the final game at home surrounded by supporting fans with the eager buzz of taking on the seemingly unbeatable Maranatha Sabercats.
The regional tournament kicked off early with a match between Faith and Calvary University, a game that had the Eagles alert right out of the gate with the brisk defense from their opponent. After a 3-1 victory, Faith moved on to face Maranatha in the deciding game to move on to the national competition at Bob Jones University. The Sabercats were 5-1 in away games during the regular season and showed no signs of weakness on other teams home courts, so the Eagles knew going into the championship game they would have to keep the team synergy and communication strong to beat Maranatha's skillset. Both teams had a strong fan presence to draw energy from, making for a very entertaining final game filled with team spirit. The final matchup resulted in a 0-3 loss for Faith, an unfortunate way to end the season, but a good motivator for next years squad of Eagle ladies.
The first game of the regional against Calvary was a good pace for both teams, with the early start (9 a.m. start time) making for some good solid morning rallies to prepare each side. Faith took the first set 25-20, motivating Calvary to try and steal the second set back with a 5-1 lead before several kills in a row from Krystal Wikstrom got the Eagles back on track. Faith won the second set (25-17) before letting the third slip away to Calvary (15-25) in a series of attack errors from Faith. The Eagles regained their charge in the fourth, punching their ticket to the championship game with a 25-20 victory over the keen Warriors.
The championship game had a rocky start for the Eagles, with Maranatha building up a scary five-point lead off an introductory kill and several follow-up serve aces. Faith began a counterstrike with Sierra Udd setting to front row hitters Karis Giegerich and Kystal Wikstrom, before Maranatha got the power back in serves to finish the first set (25-17) over Faith. The second set was a much rougher battle for possession of the serve, with Maranatha's #8 (Mattie Bumpus) and #14 (Caitrin Kemlo) dominating the front row and anticipating every kill with a return block. The Eagles had a new determination after giving up the second set (25-10) and trailed by only 2 points in the final minutes of the game, the nail-biter set coming down to 24-22 with the Sabercats needing to gain the match point. In a heart-breaking finish, the Eagles gave up the final point off a missed attack into the net, coming up with the second place overall in the region.
A common theme throughout the year for the Eagles was perseverance, and something coach Nihart taught the team was the idea of defeat causing disappointment, but not discouragement. Finishing out with a 12-9 record, the Eagles' efforts were certainly nothing short of outstanding, and a true testament to the hard work put in by players into their individual fitness and improvement of technique. Fans and players can agree it was an incredible season to watch, and though it's difficult to come to grips with the final loss at home, the Eagles still showed a humbling degree of humility in their attitude on the court. Congratulations to the ladies on a well-played season of volleyball, no matter the ups and downs and outcomes of the season.