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Blazer Volleyball qualifies for NCAA tournament

The CSB volleyball team came just seven points from receiving the MIAC automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Fortunately for the No. 24 Blazers, their 27-5 record was enough to get them in.

On Monday, St. Ben’s received an at large bid, making it six NCAA appearances for the team in their last eight seasons. They are one of eight teams that will compete in the St. Paul, MN Regional to open tournament play.

Though reaching the national tournament is an accomplishment for CSB, losing twice to your arch rival in the same season is never an easy thing to accept.

Their most recent defeat against St. Thomas happened just six days ago — a 3-2 loss in the MIAC final, which snapped a 15-game CSB winning streak.

Now with the team heading deeper into the postseason, the Blazers need to maintain their late-season momentum if they are to make a serious run.

“Momentum is kind of one of those things that’s hard to define,” head coach Nicole Hess said. “We definitely have momentum in games, but in order for things to continue to go well, you need to create that momentum every game. I think our players have done a great job of preparing for each game as it comes.”

CSB’s first loss to St. Thomas was much uglier for the Blazers than their most recent one. The Tommies won that game in a 3-0 sweep, outscoring St. Ben’s 75-50 across all three sets.

The Blazers insist that they are a better team now than they were in that game, especially considering the competitiveness of their MIAC championship clash.

“We were more confident walking into the gym the second time,” sophomore setter Taya Kockelman said. “In the first match, we didn’t really know what to expect. We came out flat, and they definitely weren’t flat that game.”

“The second time we played them we weren’t afraid to lose,” junior outside hitter Lexi Alm added. “We were going to go out and make it a tough match for them. Win or lose, we wanted them to feel like they never wanted to play us again, and I think we did that.”

Hess acknowledges that she is putting a relatively young team on the court. She has instilled, however, a simple, yet valuable mindset for the Blazers.

“We’re preparing for each game as it comes,” she said. “We’re not looking ahead or looking behind but just kind of staying in the moment,” said Hess. “It’s allowed us to be successful throughout the course of the season.”

The Blazers traveled to St. Paul for their first-round NCAA fixture on Thursday, where they took on the Dominican University Stars (24-8), who also qualified for the tournament via an at-large bid.

The NCAA Division III volleyball tournament is a 64-team, single-elimination competition that is organized much like the NCAA basketball tournament is. It is broken down into eight, eight-team regions, and sure enough, St. Ben’s and St. Thomas are in the same group, making a rematch in the Sweet 16 a possibility.

The Blazers feel that they’re ready for anything.

“We aren’t really doing anything differently,” Alm said. “We are just trying to clean the little things up so we feel entirely prepared for the tough competition we’re going to face.”

Results for CSB Volleyball can be found at csbblazers.com.