The CSB Volleyball team began the year with high expectations and throughout the year the team delivered. They were ranked No. 19 in the preseason poll and were expected to take second in the MIAC after having a great season last year.
The Blazers not only took second in the MIAC playoffs (third in the regular season) but finished the year with a record of 27-4 (9-2 MIAC) and ended the season ranked No. 6 overall.
Their season came to a halt last Friday, Nov. 15, when they lost to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
It seemed fitting that the Blazers would finish their season against the same team they started the season against. Even more interesting, the rank of UW-Stevens Point in their final game was No. 19, just as the Blazers had been ranked at the time of their first meeting.
“No matter what note we ended on it was such an unbelievably fantastic season,” junior Lexi Rinde said. “The national tournament is different than other games because every team is so athletically gifted it simply comes down to the mental game. Stevens Point just played a better mental game that day.”
The final match was uncharacteristic of the Blazers in more ways than just the final result. While the scores of each game were close the match never felt like that.
“We never really got going,” junior Taya Kockelman said, “and you can’t do that against a good team like Stevens Point.”
Rinde looks to the changing of the school schedule as part of the reason behind the loss.
“Changing to the five-day schedule made our non-conference schedule light because we didn’t know how the schedule would affect our practice and game times. We couldn’t schedule some tougher non-conference games because we wouldn’t get there in time,” Rinde said. “The easier schedule made the MIAC finals and national tournament games that much tougher because we hadn’t been tested before. Coach (Nicole Hess) did a great job making us mentally tough but it’s hard to practice mental toughness.”
The Blazers were a dominant team this year that won 21 of their 31 matches in straight sets including a stretch of nine to start the season. The only scuffs on their near-perfect season were losses against St. Thomas (twice), Augsburg, and UW-Stevens Point.
The loss to Augsburg was avenged, though, in the MIAC semifinals where the Blazers beat the Auggies 3-1 after dropping the first set.
“Everybody clicked that night and it was perfect. That was so fun,” Rinde said.
Looking to next season the Blazers will need to replace four strong, key players in seniors Lexi Alm, Chelsea Rachel, Kat Gaydos, and Kendra Coleman.
Alm, a two-time All-American honoree and All-MIAC honoree is also a member of the Blazers’ 1,000 kill club. With a total of 1,329 kills in her career she is fifth all-time in Blazer history and will prove to be a tough replacement.
“Lexi (Alm) has done great statistically but all four of the seniors will be tough to replace. They are all great on the floor and off the floor captains,” Kockelman said. “We have some younger players that can play, though. They don’t have much experience but they will be ready. We won’t rebuild, just reload.”