Expectations were very high for the Washburn Lady Blues volleyball team this year.
After a phenomenal 32-3 record last season, the Blues have picked up where they left off. The No. 4 Lady Blues (20-1 8-1 MIAA) was able to get revenge on the No. 7 University of Central Missouri Jennies who knocked the Blues out of the NCAA tournament last year in the South Central Regional Final. The top ten battle was nothing short of spectacular.
Washburn jumped out to take the first set 25-23. The Jennies rallied back taking the second set 25-19 before losing the third set 25-18. Washburn failed to put the match away in he fourth set losing in a nail-bitter 29-27, but came through in the clutch with a decisive 18-16 win the fifth and final set.
“You always feel good when you come out on top,” said Chris Herron, Washburn head coach. “As a team it was very evenly match. They have their strengths and we have ours.”
The Lady Blues were lead by a plethora of upperclassman starting with junior libero Courtney Churchman. Churchman had 26 key digs and finished the night with an impressive 2.79 pass percentage.
“Our ball control was outstanding,” said Herron. “Courtney Churchman was just money on serve receiving. Just outrageously good.”
Junior setter Abby Whitman helped to rely Churchman’s digs to the big hitters up front notching 56 assists. Many of those passes went to standout middle and rightside hitter Jessica Fey. The senior All-American finished the night with a 29 kills, third in Washburn in history.
“When you play that well in a game you don’t really realize it till its over because you’re just so focus on doing the best for your team,” said Fey.
Fey, along with her fellow seniors, were looking to redeem themselves against the Jennies who ousted the Lady Blues 1-3 in last year’s final match. This match did not have the same implications as the South Central Regional final last season, but nevertheless the win on UCM’s home court was a sweet one.
“Just being our senior year and having the rivalry we have had with Central, we just really wanted to go out and finish it with a strong victory,” said Fey.
After a disappointing loss to the No. 1-ranked Lopers of the University of Nebraska-Kearney a few weeks ago, Washburn definitely could have used a big game against a top tier team to build some confidence back up. Herron was much happier with the play of his 6-foot All-American against the Jennies after she struggled against the top ranked Lopers.
“Fey was just in another world,” said Herron. “She wanted the ball too. It was one of those things where she just was feeling it. She was telling the setter set me set me set me.”
Washburn has little time to celebrate the hard fought win, nor will Herron let his team. The Lady Blues have unfinished business to worry about, taking each game as it comes. The now No. 3-ranked Blues will get the luxury of returning home for their next two contests which starts with a Friday night game against Northwest Missouri State University (11-11, 5-4 MIAA). The Lady Blues defeated the Lady Bearcats 3-1 earlier this season in Missouri and knows what to expect.
“They [Northwest Missouri] pose a problem because the have a 6-foot-2 left handed kid on the rightside and you don’t always see that,” said Herron. “That’s the kid we have to stop. They got a couple of bookends they go to. That’s going to be our main focus defensively.”
Washburn rounds out the week Saturday with another home match against the Griffons of Missouri Western (12-10, 3-6 MIAA). The Lady Blues are more than happy to return back home for a short stint.
“I hate away games so much so it’s nice to be in your own bed,” say Fey. “Just not having to deal with traveling and being on a bus.”