LIBERAL, Kan. – For the second time in three years, the Seward County volleyball team will be heading to the NJCAA National Tournament after defeating the Hutchinson Blue Dragons to claim the Region VI Championship. Seward had to battle through Barton, winning in four sets (25-23, 22-25, 25-14, 25-14) before sweeping Hutchinson in the championship match 25-19, 25-22, 25-22. It marked the fourth consecutive year that the two programs had met in the Region VI Championship.
(1) Seward County vs (4) Barton
The opening match of the Region VI Championships was a battle for the No. 6 Lady Saints, as they played fourth-place Barton. It didn't start well for Seward, losing the first four points before Giovanna Tapigliani put the Lady Saints on the board with a kill and started a 5-0 run. With the set still tied at 11, Seward used another run to push their lead to three points. The Cougars wouldn't go away, however, tying the set late, at 23. A timeout by Tony Trifonov helped refocus the Lady Saints as they came out of the break to win the next two points and the first set, 25-23.
It didn't get any easier for Seward in the second set, as Barton took a 12-7 lead midway through the set. Seward struggled serving in the second set, giving the Cougars seven points off serving errors. Despite cutting the lead to one-point multiple times, service errors prevented the Lady Saints from overtaking Barton as the Cougars won the set 25-22.
A rowdy student section showed up at the end of the second set and just in time for the Lady Saints, helping swing the momentum in Seward's favor as the Lady Saints took an 11-6 lead midway through the set. The lead continued to grow for the Lady Saints, with Luz Sierra putting Seward up ten points with a block to make the score 20-10. Seward and Barton traded kills the final eight points, but it was too late for Barton, as Seward ran away with set three 25-14.
It was more of the same in the fourth set for the Lady Saints, taking a ten-point lead through the first twelve points, 11-1. A timeout gave the Cougars some momentum, but the student section kept the energy on Seward's side, as the Lady Saints replicated the score from set three to win the match and advance to the Region VI Championship.
Three Lady Saints finished with double-digit kills – Giovanna Tapgiliani (14), Luz Sierra (13) and Djuly Schmorantz (13). Laura De Pra finished with 46 assists. Defensively, Nathiellen Machado (18 digs) and De Pra (10 digs) finished with double-digit digs.
(1) Seward County vs (3) Hutchinson
The Greenhouse was rocking for the championship match of the Region VI Tournament. Trying to erase the memories of a season ago, the Lady Saints jumped out to a 6-2 lead capped off with a Luz Sierra kill. The lead increased to five midway through the set with another Sierra kill to make it 13-8, but the Blue Dragons battled back to trim the lead to just one at 14-13. Seward used two Tapigliani kills and an Esmadar Tavares block to get some breathing room, before finishing off the set with three straight Sierra kills to win 25-19.
Seward knew it wouldn't be an easy match, and after dropping the first two points of the second set, the Lady Saints regrouped and went on a 9-2 run. The lead reached seven points, at 17-10, with a Thais Vieira block. With the Saints just one point away from taking a two-set advantage, the Blue Dragons stormed back, winning six straight points to come within three points, but Vieira came away with a signature kill to win the set and stop the Hutchinson momentum.
It was another tight set in the third, as the two teams were tied at five each early on. Seward used a 6-2 run to take the lead and give themselves some breathing room, making it 12-7 after Tapgiliani came away with a block. Hutchinson showed resiliency, however, cutting the deficit to two points at 15-13. After taking a 19-15 lead over the Blue Dragons, Hutchinson went on a 5-1 run to take a late lead over the Lady Saints. Needing just five points to enact revenge on the Blue Dragons from a season ago, the rowdy Greenhouse crowd got involved, willing the Lady Saints to a 25-22 set three win, earning a sweep in the Region VI Championship.
Sierra was the lone Lady Saint to finish with double-digit kills, picking up 10 in the match, but it was the defense of Seward that helped them come away with the win. Djuly Schmorantz (16 digs), Nathiellen Machado (16 digs) and Asia Jhun (10 digs) kept the ball from reaching the ground, each coming away with double-digit digs.
The Lady Saints will now await their seeding selection for the NJCAA National Tournament. Seward will travel to Hutchinson to play in the NJCAA DI National Tournament from November 15-17.