The Blinn College volleyball team has spent six weeks as the No. 1 team in the nation and defeated 10 nationally-ranked teams, including four ranked in the top five.
They’ve swept 17 matches this season, including their first six to open the season, and are on the verge of the program’s 10th 30-win season.
But the Buccaneers still aren’t satisfied – not until they’re back on the national stage. The next step in their quest begins Friday at 1 p.m. against Panola College at the Region XIV Conference Championships in Tyler, Texas.
“This is what we’ve worked for all season,” Blinn (29-2) coach Erin Mellinger said. “What we’ve done so far really doesn’t matter unless we do it at the region tournament.”
The players have taken Mellinger’s approach one step further.
“Being No. 1 throughout the season has been nice, but it doesn’t really matter,” sophomore setter Crystal Young said. “The only ranking that matters is the one at the end of the national tournament, and that’s where we want to be No. 1.”
Blinn has left no doubts this season it’s among the nation’s best teams.
In the first two weeks of the season, the Bucs swept 20th-ranked Western Texas, ninth-ranked Tyler, sixth-ranked Salt Lake Community College and beat third-ranked College of Southern Idaho in five sets.
They followed those wins with a four-set victory over No. 4 San Jacinto to open conference play.
A month later, and facing its biggest deficit of the season, Blinn rallied from a two-set hole vs. second-ranked Western Nebraska Community College and took the match 3-2.
The Bucs have been dominant in large part due to their depth. Sophomore middle blockers Bruna Evangelista, a returning All-American, and Kariana Castanon-Hill have been dominant on offense. Evangelista has 407 kills on the season (4.0 per set), and Castanon-Hill has blasted another 283 (2.5 per set). When they have struggled, freshmen outside hitters Rachel Sharp and Rebecca Reeve have stepped up off the bench and assisted with 365 kills. In recent weeks, freshmen outside hitters Trinity Alualu (87 kills) and Jaeda Allen (189 kills) have stepped up their games, too.
Assisting with those kills is Young, a two-year setter for the Bucs, who has dished out a conference-high 1,059 assists (10.8 per set).
Evangelista and Castanon-Hill have played just as strong on the front line to help shut down opposing offenses. Castanon-Hill is among the conference’s best in blocking, where she’s averaging more than a block a set (123 total –– 24 solo, 99 assisted). Evangelista has blocked 105 kills this season (one per set –– 23 solo, 92 assisted).
Freshman libero Alyssa LaMont has anchored the defense all season. The 5-foot-2 freshman’s 378 digs is a team-high.
The season hasn’t come without its struggles. After leading Laredo 2-0 on Oct. 12, the Bucs Laredo rallied in three straight sets to steal the match. The loss knocked Blinn from the No. 1 ranking and snapped its 16-match winning streak.
“It was a reality check for the team,” sophomore outside hitter Katey Kyle said. “I don’t want to say we needed that loss, but it helped us refocus. Honestly, it made us a stronger team.”
The Bucs went on to win their final six regular-season matches, including victories over top-ranked Tyler on Oct. 22 and 13th-ranked San Jacinto on Oct. 30, a win that clinched their spot as the No. 1 team heading into the conference tournament.
“We’re excited to get in there and take care of business,” Evangelista said.
For more information on Blinn volleyball, including live stats, a live broadcast and an updated bracket of the Region XIV Tournament, visit www.buccaneersports.com.
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