Nothing new for Blues

Eric Smith

There was no real celebration Sunday when the eighth-ranked Washburn volleyball team found out it was the No. 2 seed in the NCAA South Central Regional Tournament and that it will play its first round match at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at host Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

For the Lady Blues and coach Chris Herron, it’s become a tradition that is counted on every year.

“To be honest with you, probably because we’ve already been there done that kind of thing, there’s not that big ‘yeah us’ kind of thing because this is our sixth year in a row to go,” said Herron. “I don’t want to say it’s expected, but our kids, when we recruit them to come here, they come here because we’ve been winning, and they expect to win. And we recruit kids from programs that have been winning. To those kinds of kids, having the success they’ve had is commonplace.”

The Lady Blues, who earned their third-straight 30-win season with a record of 32-4, finished second in the MIAA standings behind fourth-ranked Central Missouri, who beat Washburn twice this season and earned the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament.

In total, there are six MIAA teams in the tournament and they’re all ranked in the top 25 nationally: WU, UCM, No. 10 Emporia State, No. 21 Pittsburg State, No. 22 Truman State and No. 23 Nebraska-Omaha. The other two teams in the South Central Regional are from the Lone Star Conference (No. 5 West Texas A&M) and from the Heartland Conference (Dallas Baptist). Herron and the Lady Blues are 7-4 this season against the tournament field, but he said it starts over in the playoffs.

“Whoever you draw in the tournament, everybody is 0-0,” said Herron, who is 6-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament and 5-5 in South Central Regional play. “I can’t speak to Dallas Baptist because I’ve never seen them play but any of the seven that I’ve seen, six MIAA teams and West Texas, any of those teams can win this tournament. It’s just about who’s playing the best right now.”

Herron said there are several keys to making it this far, and he believes his team has some of those.

“Number one to get this far, you got to be good,” he said. “Number two, to win it, you got to be good, healthy and lucky. And right now, knock on wood, everyone is fairly healthy, and I think we’re playing well right now. We’ve had a couple really big wins lately.”

If the Lady Blues were to beat the seventh-seeded Mavericks in the first round, they would play the winner of No. 3 seeded West Texas A&M and sixth-seeded Truman State at 6 p.m. Friday.

McKayla Gowen, a freshman who redshirted this year, said while her contribution to the team this season has only been as a supporter on the sidelines, the team’s success really makes her proud to be on the team.

“I think it sets a good standard for the future,” said Gowen. “It’s pretty exciting coming here for the first year and being pretty successful. It’s just exciting to see what can happen. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”

The Lady Blues have just one senior on the team in setter Kate Hampson, who was honored Friday for senior night in the Blues’ 3-1 victory against Emporia. Several Washburn players including junior outside hitter Caitlin Conley said the team is especially trying to do well in the upcoming tournament for her.

“Every year is special, especially for our senior, Kate,” said Conley. “It makes it even more special for us because we want to win it for Kate.”

Last year in the South Central Regional at Emporia, Washburn lost in the first round to Central Missouri. Conley said that what makes the Jennies so good is that they’re really confident and believe they’re good. Also finishing the season at 32-4, Central has beaten Washburn in three straight matches.

“I hope we play them,” said Conley. “It would be nice to play UCM again, get that chance to beat them.”

But to get to the Jennies, the Lady Blues will have to beat the Mavericks first, a team that did hand Washburn one of its four losses on the season. Sophomore Mollie Lacy knows the UNO team well, being from Lincoln.

“One of the biggest things is we’ll have to control one of their middles (hitter) Ellen Thommes, she’s very good,” said Lacy. “If we can control her, we’ll have a better chance of doing well.”

While the team might not have shown its extreme happiness in earning another South Central Regional bid, Lacy insists that the team is very pleased to be there, but that its travel plans don’t stop in Warrensburg.

“We’re excited to be there,” she said. “But were not satisfied just to be there. We obviously want to play our best and play hard and hopefully we can win it all.”