By BRIANNA HARMON
ROCHESTER, MINN. — Harvester volleyball placed third in the nation at last month’s National Junior College Athletic Association
Tournament, the team’s highest finish in the college’s history.
The Harvesters swept their final match Nov. 12, defeating Central Lakes College 25-17, 25-16, 27-25.
“I can’t believe I’m a part of something like this,” outside hitter Sammie Thoma said. “This team has really overcome some pretty big obstacles, but we did some incredible things. I think it is amazing that we played the way we did.”
Outside hitter Kerstin Fredrickson and middle blocker Payton Costlow were named to the All-tournament Team.
Lay and Courtanae Calhoun were name NJCAA All-Americans, making them the first two All-Americans under coach Brandon Crisp.
Eastfield finished first in the nation with digs per set (21.92) and second in the nation with kills per set (11.76).
The Harvesters finished their season with a 26-5 overall record and 11-0 in conference.
Eastfield played without libero Karina Lay, who injured her knee in the first set of the quarterfinal game against North Hampton.
Freshman Alyssa Tomlin filled in for Lay.
It was the first time Tomlin had ever played libero in a game.
“I think she did a great job being that she hasn’t practiced it all year,” Crisp said. “She has always been our outside hitter. I looked at her at one point on the sideline and told her to take a breath because you could tell she was excited.”
Lay went from a leader on the court to an eye on the bench as she cheered the team on.
“I felt like I could help the team by telling them what was open,’’ Lay said. “I also thought me being loud on the bench would be good because I was loud on the court as well, so having that same voice on and off the court would be good for the team.”
The Harvesters ran the first two games but struggled in the third.
“I felt like we got complacent,” Crisp said.
Setter Zelda Ortiz led the team through the final game as a voice of encouragement on the court.
“Dig deep, believe in yourself,” she would tell the team.
The close play at the end forced the Harvesters to score an additional two points to win the game and match.
The Harvesters opened the tournament against North Hampton, winning in straight games (25-13, 25-15, 24-14) and snapping
their opponent’s 23-game winning streak.
Outside hitter Cailey Clogston led the team on both offense and defense, finishing with 12 digs and 11 kills. Alyssa Jimenez added ten digs. Costlow contributed 11 kills and three digs.
In its second match Friday against Ridgewater College, the team lost the first two games (18-25, 14-25) but fought back to win the next two (25-19, 25-22), forcing a decisive fifth game.
Eastfield lost that game 10-15, missing a chance at the championship and sending them to the third-pace match.
“I’m proud of them and how hard they fought,” Crisp said. “I was seeing what I could do to get the girls back in it so that we didn’t get derailed. I told them to pass and to play their game.”
The team was in shock after losing.
“It wasn’t believable at first,” Costlow said. “We all thought we were going to get [to the national championship game], and then all of our dreams were crushed. I know it sounds dramatic, but they were in that moment. We were pretty evenly matched teams. We left it all out there, and there was nothing more we could have done.”