WEST PLAINS, Mo.—After winning nine sets and losing just one over three matches, the Snow College volleyball team lost 3-1 to Iowa Western Community College in the national junior college championship last Saturday.
“As much as we wanted to win that national championship and as close as we were, we got beat by the best team. … hard as it is to admit and hard as it is to hear,” Snow Coach Jeff Reynolds said. “I think the tournament sorted it out and answered the question of who is the best team.”
At the 2020-21 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I volleyball meet, Iowa Western was the fifth seed. The Badgers were the third seed. The top-seed was Miami Dade, which Iowa Western swept in the semifinals. Miami ended up in third place. Seventh-seeded Tyler Community College of Virginia, which Snow defeated in the semi-final round, finished fourth.
In its first round, Snow beat Barton Community College of Kansas, 3-1 (25-14, 25-21, 23-25, 25-12).
The Badgers watched film on Barton, which was 25-3 entering the match, and noticed they had some good attackers and hitters, but that they had “depth and size issues that [Snow] figured would come into play,” Reynolds said.
“So we just focused in on our height advantage in the middle and our [middle blockers] did a great job working that match,” Reynolds said.
Middle blocker Lydia Montague had 16 kills, which would be like scoring 30 points in a basketball game.
“That’s just remarkable,” Reynolds said.
Middle blocker K.J. Strong had 13 kills.
“When your middles have 29 kills, it’s pretty hard to stop,” Reynolds said.
Strong had 13 kills on 15 swings and just one error, hitting .800. (And hitting percentages are like batting percentages in baseball, where if you hit .300, you are on your way to the Allstar Game.)
“For a freshman to come into a first-round game in a national tournament and hit .800 is remarkable,” Reynolds said.
The 29 kills in the middle opened things up for players on the right and left side, Reynolds said, noting that Bridgett Talia and Camden Strain combined for 21 kills on the left side and Macie Gordon had 12 on the right.
In their quarterfinal, Badgers swept Florida SouthWestern State College, 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-22).
Florida SouthWestern was a “completely” different team from Barton in that they had a ton of height, with “intimidating, big, tall, athletic girls,” Reynolds said.
But Reynolds had done some scouting on them in case Snow played them.
Snow’s objective was to get them to pass the ball other than where they were supposed to pass it. And Snow had a great serve game going, Reynolds said. Snow had five aces and many serves that ended up keeping Florida SouthWestern out of system.
Even though Yasso Amin of Florida SouthWestern had 10 kills on 15 attempts and hit .600, Snow slowed her down, Reynolds said. Julia de Sa hit just .034 for Florida Southwestern.
“We dug a lot of balls,” Reynolds said. “It was a really complete game for us.”
Excellent performances again from Montague and Strong freed up players on the outside as Snow “did a nice job moving the ball around,” Reynolds said.
“Every time you beat a team from Florida, it’s pretty good because they are usually loaded with a bunch of outstanding international players,” Reynolds said.
The win enabled the Badgers to go to the Final Four. There, they met Tyler Junior College of Texas.
Snow made another sweep in the semifinal, 3-0 (25-17, 25-20, 25-18).
While Tyler is a “really, really well-rounded team,” Reynolds said, the squad has a middle blocker in NeTania Livingston who is only 5”9”—quite a bit shorter than 6’1” Montague and especially than 6’4” Strong.
“We thought we could take advantage of that,” Reynolds said, also noting that he thought that Snow could keep Tyler away from the Badgers’ big hitters.
Montague had 16 kills on just 24 attempts and had a .625 hitting percentage, while Strong had nine kills on 15 swings and hit .400.
“Our middle hitters led us through the match and did a nice job,” Reynolds said.
Snow also had five aces, which really disrupted Tyler, Reynolds said.
“I felt confident heading into that match; I liked our matchups,” Reynolds said. “But in the national semifinals, I’ll be honest—I wasn’t expecting a three-set victory.”
In their championship match against the Iowa Western, the Badgers lost 15-25, 25-20, 20-25, 19-25.
Iowa Western had lost 3-0 to Snow in January, but Reynolds didn’t even include that game in his scouting report or when watching film.
“Because it was so early in the season … it was a completely different team,” Reynolds said, noting that the Badgers were Iowa Western’s third match of the year and first at the NJCAA Division 1 level.
Snow knew heading into the national championship that setter Yadhira Anchante of Iowa Western was going to be a handful.
“She’s by far the best setter at the JUCO level that I have seen in five years of coaching, by far,” Reynolds said.
“Their hitters came at every angle of the net,” Reynolds said. “Any adjustments we made, they countered.”
Reynolds said it was “absolutely an honor to go and play in the national championship game.”
“You could live a long life and not have the opportunity to play for the national championship in anything,” Reynolds said.
Not once did Reynolds question Snow’s heart and commitment.
“Our girls put their heart and soul into it,” Reynolds said, noting that when he called a timeout late in the match, not one player was thinking it was over.
In fact, the following day, some still hadn’t answered text or social media messages because they didn’t know how to respond to congratulatory messages when they had wanted to win the title game so badly, Reynolds said.
Even though it stung to be one and a half sets away from a national championship, the Badgers “really, really” appreciated the parade the Ephraim Fire Department gave them from the Ephraim Walmart to the Horne Activities Center.
Montague and Strong were named to the all-tournament team at the national meet.
“Lydia, of course, is a once-in-a-lifetime player that comes along,” Reynolds said. “She is going to have a great career at Marshall.” (Marshall University is in Huntington, W. Va.)
“K.J. had [her] best games of the season,” Reynolds said. “I think it’s tremendous that as a freshman, she came into the national tournament and made a name for herself and set the stage for next year.”