Buccaneers win Region XIV volleyball championship

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TYLER, Texas – At the start of the day Sunday, the top-ranked Blinn volleyball team was facing possible elimination from the Region XIV Conference Tournament.
By day’s end, the Buccaneers were crowned Region XIV champions and clinched a berth to the NJCAA Division I Volleyball National Championship in Casper, Wyo., Nov. 21-23.
Blinn battled through three matches here Sunday and ultimately swept the Tyler Lady Apaches in the championship game, 25-17, 25-21, 25-17 to claim the Region XIV championship.
“It’s a little surreal right now,” Blinn (35-3) coach Erin Mellinger said. “I am so proud of them. At any point they could have given up, they could have thrown in the towel, but they kept fighting.”
The Bucs had to beat Tyler (31-4) in back-to-back matches to win the championship because they were playing out of the loser’s bracket. Tyler, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, had gone through the tournament without a loss prior to Sunday’s matches against the Bucs.
The Bucs wouldn’t have made it to the championship game if it wasn’t for a win against Laredo in a win-or-go-home match to open tournament play Sunday. Laredo knocked Blinn to the loser’s bracket with a five-set win in the second round of the tournament Saturday. It was the second time this season the Palominos rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Blinn in five sets. But when it mattered most, the Bucs got the win, 23-25, 26-24, 25-17, 25-16.
“For us to beat Laredo and know that we were in the national tournament was such a relief,” Mellinger said. “The tension went away, the stress went away –– we had accomplished what we set out to do at the beginning of the season.”
That set up a battle of the nation’s best for the region championship.
And, for the fourth head-to-head showdown this season, Blinn came out victorious.
Blinn beat Tyler 25-21, 23-25, 25-20, 25-13 to stave off elimination once again. In elimination games during the tournament, Blinn was 4-0.
The Bucs played tight in the early sets against Laredo –– looking as if they knew the pressure the match held –– but in both matches against Tyler, the team played more relaxed and allowed its talent to carry it to a championship.
Prior to the tournament, Mellinger stressed the importance of the Bucs’ depth if they were going to win a conference championship. The bench players more than held their own.
In the final match against Tyler, sophomore Katey Kyle had her best match of the season with 10 kills and no errors on 14 attempts to post a .714 hitting percentage. That complimented sophomore Bruna Evangelista’s 12 kills and .647 hitting percentage.
Together, the Buccaneers combined to hit at a .287 clip to Tyler’s .050.
Trinity Alualu, a freshman from Hawaii, posted a team-high 10 digs to match libero Alyssa LaMont’s 10.
All day, Blinn’s front line –– which includes sophomore Kariana Castanon-Hill, who is among the conference’s best in blocks –– disrupted opposing offenses and combined for 39 blocks.
“From Evely (Macedo) coming in to play back row for Rachel (Sharp), to Rebecca Proske filling in to give Bruna some rest, to Katey coming in and doing her job, every player on the team did her job, and I’m so, so proud of all of them,” Mellinger said.
It was a battle from the tournament’s opening match on Friday for Blinn. Panola nearly pulled out an upset in the opening round, but the Bucs conquered the Fillies in five sets. Following the loss to Laredo Saturday, Blinn nearly saw its season end to San Jacinto before rallying late to take a 15-13 win in the fifth set. Blinn then swept and eliminated the Paris Lady Dragons in straight sets.
In all, the Bucs played 29 total sets in the tournament, 12 more than the next team.
After starting the day on the brink of elimination, the Bucs can now set their sights on the national tournament with the Region XIV championship in hand.
For more information on Blinn volleyball, visit www.buccaneersports.com.

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