Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, YMU Sports Information Director
FULLERTON — After The Master’s University secured the first GSAC regular-season title in program history earlier this month, the team congregated inside its locker room in The MacArthur Center.
The meeting’s focus: The Mustangs needed a new goal, and winning this weekend’s Golden State Athletic Conference tournament at Hope International in Fullerton was a natural choice.
Master’s moved in that direction Saturday morning with a 3-0 semifinal win over Menlo College — by scores of 25-23, 25-16 and 25-20.
The No. 13-ranked Mustangs will play the winner of No. 18 Vanguard and No. 15 Westmont at 7 p.m. tonight in Hope’s Darling Pavilion. The tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, later this month.
Master’s last advanced to nationals in 2013.
The morning’s win was a striking turnaround from the last time Master’s (28-5) and Menlo (15-9) met in Atherton, California.
The Mustangs entered the Oct. 27 match needing one win to secure at least a share of the GSAC regular-season title. Instead, Menlo stunned Master’s in three.
The Mustangs hit under .100 for just the third time all season. Oaks outside hitter Maggie McDonald recorded a match-high 15 kills.
Saturday, Master’s played more like a team that’s been among the NAIA’s top 15 since mid-September. Three adjustments were key: 1) Mustang hitters exposed the seams in Menlo’s backline (TMU hit .209 for the match). 2) Master’s middle blockers didn’t fret over the Oaks middles and instead focused on Menlo’s pin hitters (McDonald hit -.125 and the Oaks hit .044 as a team). And 3) TMU served the Oaks especially tough, not allowing Menlo to play in system.
“The match we lost, we were really timid with our serves,” said TMU’s Jane Cisar, “and when they have perfect passes and they’re shooting it to their outsides, we can’t get out there fast enough. Today, a huge factor was our serving. If we didn’t get an ace, we were still getting them off and out of system.”
With the pace of Menlo’s sets and attacks slowed, the Mustangs were better positioned to block or dig — and feed the ball to any one of several attackers.
Cisar led the Mustangs with 10 kills (and just one error), Chloe Emory and Regan Tate each had seven kills and Autumn Stevens and Kayla Sims added five apiece.
Sims, who pitched in 18 assists and 10 digs, said precision passing was key to keeping TMU’s options open.
“We could run anyone,” Sims said, “which was nice.”
As for TMU’s approach to the two-day tournament (Master’s received a bye Friday as the No. 1 seed), Sims said the Mustangs had sliced its new goal into bite-sized pieces.
“Our focus was to win the tournament, but we wanted to take it step by step,” she said. “We wanted to think about the first game and not the championship because we didn’t know if we’d get there.”
Now, it’s a sure thing. The only question is whether Master’s will play Vanguard for the second time in eight days (Master’s beat the Lions 3-1 in the regular season’s penultimate game) or face Westmont for the third time this season.
Master’s ended the Warriors’ 32-match winning streak in conference play on Sept. 15 (3-0). Then Westmont returned the favor. The Warriors snapped TMU’s 12-match winning streak on Oct. 12 — also by a 3-0 score.
“Now we’re going to go scout the other teams, watch them play, just rest and get excited for the next match,” Sims said, “and hopefully come out with some energy.”
Energy was a challenge early in Saturday’s match. TMU built a 14-11 lead in set one before Menlo called timeout. In the huddle, Mustang coach Allan Vince implored his club to play with more enthusiasm.
“I told them to exaggerate the energy they think they’re producing,” Vince said, “to the point of being ridiculous.”
Master’s eventually pulled out of the funk, but not right away. After Menlo forged a 17-17 tie, the score fell into a tie four more times: 20-20, 21-21, 22-22, 23-23.
Tate finally ended the set with an athletic tip kill. She reached out and pushed the ball with her left hand, and Master’s got off on the right foot.
Here’s the box score.