Blues return to Emporia: ESU wins conference, could play Washburn with regional championship on the line

Stephanie Nitz serves

Eric Smith

The Washburn Lady Blues volleyball team has had a great season, going undefeated at home while winning three-fourths of their conference games. However, none of that will matter this weekend when they take the court as part of the NCAA South Central Regional Tournament.

“I think we’re all just clearing our heads from the [ESU] game,” said Stephanie Nitz, senior. “Because once regionals start, everyone is back at 0-0. It’s a clean slate and so we just need to work hard in practice this week and go prepared for whoever we have to play.”

The latest rankings of the South Central region that came out last Wednesday placed Emporia at No. 1 and Washburn at No. 2, while Truman State was No. 3, Pittsburg State ranked at No. 4 and Central Missouri was No. 6.

Although pairings were not announced until after 9 p.m. Sunday, the Lady Blues’ loss to Emporia State on Friday all but eliminated them from the chance to earn the top spot and host the tournament. Truman State may jump the Blues in the rankings, but if the team stays in the top three of the South Central, they avoid having to play ESU until the regional championship.

“It was a really important game because it determined pretty much who hosted regionals,” said Ashley Shepard, sophomore. “If [Emporia State] won, they hosted regionals. If we would have won, we would have hosted regionals. So there was a lot riding on that game.”

The Hornets won the MIAA, finishing 32-3, 18-2, while the Lady Blues record was 30-5, 15-5. Washburn finished third behind ESU and Truman State.

“We’ve played [in Emporia] once and so we know what it’s like,” said Molly Smith, sophomore. “We just need to take that loss and build on it. That’ll give us more confidence about playing in that gym and in that surrounding because we’re going to have to play in there again obviously against some tough teams.”

The Lady Blues still hope to grab the No. 2 seed from Truman, with whom they split the season 1-1.

“We’re kind of hoping to be on the opposite end of the bracket from Emporia so that maybe we can face them in the Championship round on their home court and try to get some revenge on them,” said Shepard.

And now that it’s the postseason, it’s single elimination. Either win or go home.

“I think everyone just realizes that we need to step up our game,” said Smith. “The conference season is over. Everyone knows to play that much harder for the seniors because it might be the last time you play together as a team.”