In the early days of Fall practices, the No. 1-ranked Blinn volleyball team laid out a list goals for the upcoming season.
The list included moving into the top 10 in the NJCAA rankings, going undefeated, winning the Region XIV Conference championship, qualifying for the national tournament and bringing the nation’s ultimate prize back to Brenham.
So far, the Buccaneers (35-3) have accomplished three of five items, and they have a chance for a fourth at the NJCAA Division I Volleyball National Championship in Casper, Wyo., Nov. 21-23.
“At the beginning of the season we all planned to be at the national tournament,” freshman Trinity Alualu said. “For us to work so hard and not accomplish that goal, everything would have been for nothing.”
While dominating the regular season – Blinn has spent seven weeks atop the NJCAA rankings – the Bucs nearly saw their season end at the Region XIV Conference Tournament. They suffered a second-round loss to Laredo, a team that has handed them two of their losses on the season, and were nearly eliminated in the following match to San Jacinto before pulling out a 15-13 fifth-set victory.
From there, Blinn reeled off four consecutive wins, battling through the elimination bracket to claim the conference championship. Those wins included back-to-back victories over second-ranked Tyler in the championship match.
“After losing that match to Laredo, we grew a lot as a team,” freshman Rebecca Reeve said. “We proved to ourselves that we are a lot stronger than we thought we were.”
Talent and depth had to carry the team when the players were reaching a breaking point.
“Our bodies went through so much,” freshman Rachel Sharp said. “We were physically and mentally exhausted at the end.”
With an offense led by sophomore Bruna Evangelista (4.0 kills/set) and Crystal Young (11 assists/set), the Bucs open tournament play with Gadsden State (Ala.) at 1 p.m. Thursday. Of the 16 teams that qualified for the tournament, Blinn has defeated seven this season –– second-ranked Tyler, third-ranked Western Nebraska, sixth-ranked Salt Lake, seventh-ranked Central Florida, ninth-ranked North Idaho, 11th-ranked Hill and 12th-ranked Missouri State-West Plains.
“We feel like we’ve worked so hard to get there,” Alualu said. “Coach has told us there’s no pressure, we’ve already proven to a lot of people and even ourselves that we deserve to be where we are right now.”
The Bucs have seen it all this season –– come-from-behind wins against the nation’s top teams, midseason upsets that regained the team’s focus and nearly watching its season end short of completing those preseason goals.
Through 38 matches, Blinn has prevailed.
“Losing to Laredo and Panola this season really woke us up and opened our eyes that we can’t coast through any match,” Alualu said. “There are teams out there that want to be where we are and we have to keep working hard and not be satisfied.”
That satisfaction won’t come until the Bucs can cross one final item off that preseason list: national champions.
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.
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