HUTCHINSON, KS — The New Mexico Military Institute Bronco volleyball team closed out the season with a trio of wins at the 2019 NJCAA D1 Women’s National Championships to finish as the ninth-best junior college team in the country.
The Broncos started the season off at a gangbuster pace, winning their first 25 matches, resulting in a climb in the national polls all the way up to fourth. NMMI ended the regular season ranked No. 8 with a 33-4 record and earned their place at the 16-team national championship tournament — held this year in Hutchinson, Kansas — via an at-large bid.
At nationals, NMMI was selected as the No. 9 overall seed. They played No. 8 Hillsborough Community College in their first match on Thursday, Nov. 21, and lost in a five-set heartbreaker.
The Broncos won the first set 25-19, but then let the Hawks — from Tampa, Florida — take sets two and three with scores just as close: 25-20 and 25-18.
NMMI rallied back to force a fifth set with a 25-20 win in the fourth but fell five points shy in the final set,15-10.
On Friday in the consolation bracket, the Broncos bounced back with two wins, securing their spot in the final NJCAA rankings as one of the top 10 teams in the country.
NMMI galloped past the 16th-seeded Monroe College Mustangs in Friday’s first match, coming back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth set (25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 27-25); then needed just three sets to fly by the Panola College Fillies (25-15, 25-16, 25-22).
Freshman outside hitter Julia Johnson topped the Institute in kills in the Monroe match, knocking down 17 shots, while the NMMI defense looked top-notch with 83 digs and 16 blocks. Four Broncos had double-digits in digs, led by sophomore libero Hula Crisostomo’s 22. Freshman Alyssa Lukasik was big in the middle with seven assisted blocks.
Against Panola, NMMI’s offense showed up in force with Bronco attackers putting up an outstanding .367 kill percentage as a team. Johnson again led the team in total kills with 13. Sophomore outside hitter Violeta Mendoza Quintana was close behind with 12, and three other players came close to double-figure kills: sophomore opposite-side hitter Gabriela Langi with 9 kills, and 8 kills each by Lukasik and freshman middle Vittoria Price.
Crisostomo averaged six digs per set vs. the Fillies for her 18 total during the match.
The pair of wins advanced the Institute into Saturday’s consolation championships and forced a rematch of the Region V West Championships against Odessa College.
Despite dropping the first set to the seventh-seeded Wranglers, NMMI needed just four sets to win the match and take home a ninth-place finish at nationals: 23-25, 26-24, 25-21, 25-20.
Johnson and Price were the big hitters for the Broncos against Odessa with 11 and 10 kills, respectively; Mendoza and Lukasik were close behind, each with nine.
But it was again the Bronco backcourt that really made the match go NMMI’s way. Forchtner’s crew dug out 86 Odessa attacks, and combined to block another 14, paving the way to the win.
Crisostomo collected 23 of those digs, while sophomore setter Barbara Celler corralled another 17.
NMMI finishes its 2019 campaign with a 38-5 overall record, setting a new mark in wins in a single season by the Bronco volleyball program.
“Our defense was firing on all cylinders, and our offense absolutely annihilated them,” said Forchtner about the Broncos three-set win against Panola in Friday’s second match. “That gave our team a lot of confidence going into the Odessa match.”
When asked about what is next for the Bronco volleyball program now that the season is concluded, coach Forchtner just smiled before replying emphatically “We work. We take a week off and then go back to work,” which helps explain a large part of why this was the fourth consecutive trip to nationals for head coach Shelby Forchtner and her volleyball squad, and their sixth in seven years.