NMMI Sports Press
The New Mexico Military Institute Bronco volleyball team moved one step closer to their third-straight NJCAA National Championship appearance by winning the Region V West Championship title on Saturday.
NMMI was the regional tournament host this year, and earned the top seed and a first-round bye due to their undefeated 10-0 record in Western Junior College Athletic Conference play during the regular season.
The Broncos made short work of fifth-seeded Western Texas College in the semi-final round, downing the Westerners in three straight sets: 25-14, 25-8, 25-17.
"Our team played one of their best matches in a really long time," said head Bronco coach Shelby Forchtner about the morning match-up against WTC. "We passed really well, we served really well, and our defense was unbelievable - we had extremely few defensive errors. Because of that, offensively, we had one of the best games in a long time. Everything was firing on all cylinders and we were in control the entire time. We were relaxed and just played a great match from beginning to end. It was a fun to be a part of and a fun to watch – just an all-around good match for us to start the tournament with."
NMMI hit a huge .385 as a team on offense against the Westerners with three players with double-figures in kills: Peyton Schendt with 12, Agape Mafua with 11 and Gabriela Langi with 10. Katelynn Gutz had 8 kills and led in hitting percentage at .615.
In the other semi-final match the No. 3 seed, Midland College, knocked off second-seeded Odessa College in a five-set grudge match: 25-12, 22-25, 15-25, 26-24, 16-14.
That set up a 3 PM final between the Chaps and Broncos, with the Institute cruising to easy set-one win, 25-10.
The second set was dominated early again by NMMI, with the Broncos jumping out to a 16-5 lead. Midland battled back, but it was too little and too late, as Forchtner's squad powered their way to a 25-18 win.
In sets three and four, however, that energetic, relaxed play by the Institute turned into almost a panic. Midland took the third set – after a solid NMMI comeback attempt – 25-23, then claimed set four in convincing fashion, 25-16.
"We did a lot of the same [good] things in the first and second sets versus Midland," explained coach Forchtner. "We were passing well, the defense was great and our offense was clicking. We did struggle with blocking in those first two sets but it wasn't really affecting our overall game. Those were two pretty comfortable sets for us in the championship match. And I think our kids just got too comfortable. We came out in set three and played like we were still asleep in the locker room. Our bench enthusiasm went way down, our floor chemistry and intensity went way down as well. We were banging balls into their best blockers, banging balls out-of-bounds, or banging balls into the net. We also didn't pass as well. Even trying to come back in set three, we never seemed to get back our full momentum."
The Broncos bounced back in Set 5. After a few early ties, NMMI pulled away earning a 15-9 victory to claim the regional title.
"In set five, we put our starting line-up back in and told those kids to go do what we had asked them to do in the first set," said Fochtner. "And they did it - our floor intensity was drastically different, our bench was different and our energy was different. We're in November and I still don't think our kids understand just how much they feed off of that. You can see the difference when we're all working together as a unit. And we need that to be successful."
The Broncs hit just .169 against the Chaps. Schendt was the leader in kills (20), hitting percentage (.320), and digs (26). Mafua had 12 kills and 5 block assists; Crisostomo had 24 digs; Nawa 17 digs; and Megan Martinez had 4 block assists.
In previous seasons, winning the Region V West title earned an automatic bid to nationals. But this year, thanks to some re-districting by the National Junior College Athletic Association, NMMI will have to play – and win – one more match.
"Now we play Arizona Western College on Tuesday here at home," said Forchtner. "They won their regional championship last night and we're going to meet up here in a 7 o'clock match with the winner going to nationals.
"So yes, this was a super-important win for us, but now we have an even bigger task at hand. We're playing someone that we haven't seen. Our team tends to step up when playing high-level competition, and I hoping that's what will happen when we face Arizona Western."
For the losers of Tuesday's match at the Cahoon Armory gym, there is still a small sliver of hope.
"There are two at-large bids available," explained Forchtner. "A committee will determine who gets those after all of these regional tournaments are finished. We have a really tough strength of schedule outside of our conference – almost all those matches have been against nationally-ranked teams – and really good teams in our conference. So there is a small chance that an at-large bid could happen, but you don't want to sit around and wait on that."
Forchtner finished by saying that she hoped that her team would play all of their remaining games the way that they played in their opening match of the tournament against Western Texas College.