By JULIO VEGA
The No. 2-ranked Eastfield women’s volleyball team (25-7) returns to the national tournament hoping to make history as the school’s first women’s team to claim a national title.
They traveled to Minnesota and will face No. 7-ranked Jamestown Community College (30-0) in the quarterfinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III championship at 11 a.m. Friday.
Middle blocker Payton Costlow said she looks forward to returning to Minnesota and topping last season’s third-place finish.
“I expect us to be in that championship game and expect us to be fighting for first place,” she said.
In the Metro Athletic Conference tournament that earned the Harvesters a ticket to nationals, they held off Cedar Valley 3-2 (27-25, 24-26, 25-17, 23-25, 15-10) in the semifinal and dominated the championship match against Brookhaven 3-0 (26-24, 25-9, 25-16).
Coach Brandon Crisp said the team deserves to be at nationals for persevering and pushing through the tournament.
“I know [the semifinal] was a tough night for us because we went for five [sets],” he said. “They kept going and kept their foot on the pedal. This team is resilient.”
In last year’s national tournament, the Harvesters won their first match 3-0 against North Hampton before falling 3-2 to Ridgewater in the semifinal round. They topped Central Lakes College 3-0 to take finish third in the tournament.
Libero Alyssa Tomlin said she’s proud of the team for returning to nationals and looks forward to playing again in Minnesota.
“I haven’t felt this since last year when we won [the MAC final],” she said. “All I know is that we have to do it again at nationals. I think we’re going to win and completely beat Harper [College] in the championship. That’s what we were trying to do last year.”
At the end of the regular season, Eastfield was ranked No. 2 in the country behind the defending national champion Hawks from Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.
Crisp said the team has more depth this year and some have the advantage of knowing what it’s like to play in Minnesota.
“We’re more evenly balanced as compared to last year, where we had two or three strong players versus this year, where they are all strong players,” he said. “We know what the breaks are like, what the format is, playing in the facilities at nationals.”
He said because the team put itself through a tougher preseason schedule, they are ready to face tough teams.
“Our only losses this year are to Division I schools, and we’ve actually beat two Division I schools and Division II schools,” he said. “I think we have a great shot because we’ve done fantastic this year.”
Tournament games can be livestreamed at NJCAA TV at njcaatv.com. The tournament bracket and other information is at rochsports.org/njcaavolleyball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
#2 Alyssa Tomlin, libero
Alyssa Tomlin and Maura Munoz both excel defensively as liberos, but Tomlin’s stats edge her over Munoz. With 556 digs and 5.2 digs per set, her play in the back row helps the team transition into offense seamlessly.
#8 Kalli Caddell, setter
Kalli Caddell is influential in dictating play and is involved nearly every time the team attacks. With 868 assists to her name, she contributes more than twice as many points for her teammates then everyone else combined. She is also solid defensively with 216 digs.
#17 Keishla Reyes, outside hitter
With nation-high 104 service aces going into the national tournament, Keishla “Kiki” Reyes leads the way offensively for the Harvesters with her powerful serving and strong hits. She also leads the team with 330 kills and has a hitting percentage of .247 and provides a good defensive presence with 383 digs.
#7 Kerstin Fredrickson, outside hitter
A reliable player overall, Kerstin Fredrickson excels in several aspects of play, with 309 kills, a hitting percentage of .249, 354 digs and 43 service aces. She was a part of last year’s squad as they went to nationals and her experience makes her a commanding figure on the court.