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Lady Broncos gets at-large bid to Nationals

NMMI’s Julia Johnson digs out an attack by Odessa in the Region V West Championship match on Saturday. (Shutternut Photo)

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The team that wins the Region V West Volleyball Championships earns an automatic bid to Nationals.

The New Mexico Military Institute Broncos have won that title and gone to the NJCAA D1 Women’s Volleyball Championships for the past three years straight, and five out of the last six.

But this year Odessa College won the post-season tourney, downing the hosting Broncos last Saturday in the Cahoon Armory gym in three sets: 25-20, 25-21, 25-20.

NMMI won their semi-final match earlier in the day, needing just three sets (25-19, 25-6, 25-16) to advance past Midland College and move on to the finals for yet another showdown against the Wranglers. NMMI and Odessa had met twice previously during the regular season: NMMI won in five sets at Odessa on Sept. 25; the Wranglers returned the favor in five at NMMI on Oct. 19.

Against Midland, the NMMI attack looked impressive, collecting 38 kills on 92 attacks, while committing just 11 attack errors. Freshman middle Vittoria Price led the Broncos on offense with 10 kills and a whopping .600 kill percentage.

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The Bronco defense looked solid as well with 16 blocks, 56 digs and only one reception and one ball handling error. Price was again at the top for blocks with five assists; sophomore libero Hula Crisostomo was the leader in digs with 17.

But against Odessa, NMMI’s attack seemed to evaporate. They still knocked down almost as many kills in three sets as they did against Midland (36 compared to 38) but the number of attacks increased to 120, and, even worse, the number of attack errors almost tripled, with 31.

NMMI also made five receptions and five ball handling errors in the championship match against Odessa.

Top swinger for the Broncos was freshman middle Alyssa Lukasik with nine kills. Price again led the block category with six assists, and Crisostomo in the digs column with 24.

With the win and loss in Saturday’s postseason play, NMMI’s overall record moved to 34-4. That is a very impressive record, currently the best win/loss percentage in the 16-year history of the Bronco volleyball program.

Fourteenth-year head coach Shelby Forchtner hoped that record — along with a long list of wins this season against nationally ranked teams and a No. 8 final regular-season national ranking — would be enough to earn one of two at-large bids to the NJCAA National Championships, held this year in Hutchinson, Kansas on Nov. 21-23.

But the Broncos had to wait until Tuesday at 11 a.m. to find out they were, indeed, selected.

“We realized we are not very patient,” laughed a relived coach Forchtner about the two-day wait between Saturday’s championship match and Tuesday’s announcement of the selections and seedings for Nationals. “All of us — we all asked about a thousand times: ‘Are we going to Nationals?’ Basically, we knew that our strength of schedule was just as tough as anyone out there left among the ranked teams who didn’t win their regional championship, and that our four losses were all to teams ranked 10 or higher. So we thought we had a pretty good shot.”

NMMI was selected as the No. 9 overall seed in the 16-team tournament. They’ll face Hillsborough Community College — the No. 8 seed out of Tampa, Florida — in the first round on Thursday, Nov. 21 at 1 p.m. CST. The Hawks posted a 30-8 overall record on the season and won their regional tournament to punch their ticket to nats, downing Polk State — the other at-large selection — in five sets.

“I’m just glad our kids are going to get the opportunity to continue to play,” finished up Forchtner. “I think everyone was a bit deflated after we lost (to Odessa), but I definitely think our team is one of the best teams in the country. This team has posted the best record in the school’s history so far, with a lot of accomplishments both as a team and individually. If we can put things together in the next two weeks, we can do some serious damage.”

“For us to get this at-large bid is a huge blessing,” closed the coach. “I know that the girls are super excited that they get a chance to compete at the national championships.”

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