Volleyball serves up another conference title
Though the team did not advance beyond pool play, it did amass several more team and individual honors to its collection. This includes a fifth consecutive conference title, a sixth national tournament appearance and six players being awarded All-Conference honors.
Before the awards and titles came, the Pioneers began the long grind to glory in spring 2016. Volleyball season began in the weight room and with the recruitment of strong players to add to the team’s talent and depth.
In order to achieve the best record in the HAAC and end the season ranked No. 13 in the nation with a berth in the national tournament, several factors were at play that began to define who the team was and what the goals were.
The first factor contributing to the team’s success, according to head coach Kristin Steele, was that the team returned a lot of players.
“Six of our seven starters this year had already seen play action,” Steele said.
Steele also said that the tragic death of 14-month-old Harper Rodden drove the team to work hard and live with no regrets. Harper was the infant daughter of strength and conditioning coach Whitney Rodden. Harper was killed in an accident on July 27.
“We never took any days for granted,” Steele said.
Junior setter Rachel Kater said that they were able to have the best record in the conference because they took everything one game at a time.
“We scouted our opponents [and] were prepared,” Kater said.
Kater and Steele both said that a high point of the season came early in the year when the Pioneers beat Dordt College (Iowa) and Bellevue University (Nebraska), two nationally ranked teams. Another milestone came at the end of the regular season when the Pioneer squad won its fifth consecutive conference title.
“A high of the season would be beating Central Methodist twice for both the conference championship and a bid to nationals,” Kater said.
Steele also said that the team endured minor setbacks throughout the course of the season due to injuries. The most difficult loss came in the postseason conference title match.
“A low point for us was when we lost to Grand View in the conference tournament,” Steele said.
Going into nationals however, was a whole different beast the Pioneers had to face. Having the best record in the HAAC, MNU bypassed the opening rounds and headed straight to Sioux City, Iowa, for pool play. The Pioneers had been to nationals many times before and came in with the goal of advancing past pool play.
“We were ranked second in our pool and the top two would move onto tournament play,” Kater said. “Naturally, our goal was to advance out of pool play. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that.”
Steele said that team’s performance at nationals was hindered by a significant injury to Kater. This injury was a major reason that the lower-ranked Biola University (California) was able to defeat the team. At the end of three games of pool play, the Pioneers finished 1-2.
Regardless of the unforeseen circumstances, MNU volleyball produced another award-winning season. However, Kater said there is much left for the Pioneers to accomplish in order to achieve their goals, beginning in the offseason.
“MNU volleyball takes spring season very seriously,” Kater said. “It’s all about getting better for next year. Improving strengths and working on weaknesses.”
“We need to work on upper body strength across the board and our quickness,” Steele said. “We just need to be bigger, faster and stronger.”
Steele said the 2016 MNU volleyball season did much to continue to build on the foundation of past seasons. Though the future is always uncertain, Steele said the volleyball program is confident and motivated to continue to produce great things on the court.
“We want to be the premier program in the conference,” Steele said. “The girls are really hungry for a championship after seeing what women’s basketball was able to accomplish.”
Carlos Guzman- More by this author
Carlos Guzman ('19) is from Overland Park, Kansas and is the Sports editor for The Trailblazer. He is a biology major with an emphasis in pre-medicine and is also pursuing a minor degree in Youth and Family Ministry. Carlos is also on the cross country and track and field team.