CASPER, Wyo. – From the season’s opening practice, the Blinn volleyball team has set its sights on winning the NJCAA national title.
The No. 1-ranked Buccaneers moved on step closer to achieving that goal Friday night. Blinn clinched its berth to the NJCAA Division I Volleyball National Championship finals here at the Casper Events Center. The Bucs swept fifth-seeded Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17, to advance back to the finals for the first time since they won it all in 2011.
“It feels amazing,” sophomore Bruna Evangelista said. “To be here in the national finals, competing for a national championship, feels so good.”
It’ll be an all-Texas battle for the national title as second-ranked Tyler Junior College defeated Salt Lake Community College in five sets Friday night. It’ll be the fifth time the teams have met this season. Blinn is 4-0 against the Lady Apaches, including three sweeps and back-to-back wins in the Region XIV Conference Tournament to win the region championship.
But first, the Bucs had to take care of Hillsborough in the semifinals.
Hillsborough put up a fight against the Bucs in the first set. After a 17-17 tie, Blinn finally pulled away to take the 25-20 win.
“It always takes us a minute to get settled in and figure out what the other team is doing, but once we did tonight we played really, really well,” Blinn (38-3) coach Erin Mellinger said. “I’m so, so, proud of them.”
Blinn never let up from there.
The Bucs’ front line never allowed the Hawks to gain much momentum. It combined for 12 blocks, held Hillsborough’s offense to a .087 hitting percentage and forced it into 27 errors. The defense contributed just as much with 48 digs, led by Alyssa LaMont’s 12 and Trinity Alualu’s 10.
The offense got contribution from seven different players, led by sophomore Kariana Castanon-Hill and Rebecca Reeve’s nine kills.
“We started to press them in the later sets and they started to fold,” Castanon-Hill said.
By the third set, Blinn held a 20-13 lead, which forced a Hillsborough timeout. It couldn’t stop the redhot Bucs, who later ended the match with a block by Castanon-Hill and Reeve.
Castanon-Hill responded from subpar North Idaho game, and Reeve continued her strong performance from Thursday in the game against Hillsborough. In the past two games, Reeve has contributed 17 kills and 18 digs.
“A lot of it has been the thought of getting to the finals and getting that ring,” Reeve said of her recent play.
Blinn also got a big contribution out of its sophomore setter Crystal Young. Against North Idaho, Young injured her knee, and despite the pain, played every point against Hillsborough.
She expects to play against Tyler in the finals, too.
“At this point, I don’t think that any pain matters,” Young said. “We’re competing for a national championship.”
It’s been a long road for the four returning sophomores –– Evely Macedo, Dylan Dean, Young and Evangelista. As freshmen, the four held the same goal of winning a national title, only to see their season fall short in the region tournament.
As sophomores, it’s been a completely opposite tale.
The Bucs fought through the elimination bracket in this year’s region tournament, and now have won three games on the national stage to set up the finale for their national title run.
Saturday, they have the chance to cross the final item off their season's checklist.
This season marks Blinn’s ninth trip to the national tournament in the past 11 years, including national titles in 2008 and 2011.
For more information on Blinn volleyball, visit www.buccaneersports.com.
To comment, the following rules must be followed:
Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content, but the station is under no legal obligation to do so.
If you believe a comment violates the above rules, please use the Flagging Tool to alert a Moderator.
Flagging does not guarantee removal.
Multiple violations may result in account suspension.
Decisions to suspend or unsuspend accounts are made by Station Moderators.
Questions may be sent to email@example.com. Please provide detailed information.