Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
When the Mustangs congregated for their first few practices of the new season in August, coach Allan Vince wasn’t sure what he had.
The fifth-year coach knew he had athletes capable of winning volleyball matches — but how far had the group, which remained mostly intact, progressed after a disappointing 2017. He didn’t know.
“I had no reference point,” Vince said.
Neither did assistant coach Annett Davis, but for a different reason. Davis, in her first year, had never seen the team practice or compete.
Following a 3-1 season-ending loss to Dordt College on Thursday at the NAIA national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, Davis shared with the Mustangs what had been her first impression all those months ago.
“She said that when she walked into the gym and saw them practicing, she knew right away they were a championship team,” Vince said. “She’d never seen a match, but by how the girls trained and their attitudes, she knew they were championship quality.”
“She has the credibility to back it up,” Vince said of Davis, who won a national championship at UCLA and competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Vince, who also played volleyball at UCLA and professionally overseas, repeatedly called this NAIA tournament a learning experience. Thursday’s finale was no different.
The Mustangs (29-8), already eliminated from advancing out of pool play, still stepped onto the court with a passion to play.
For senior Kayla Sims, it was an opportunity to say thank you.
“Before the match I told the girls, ‘Thank you for being my teammates and being next to me on the court in games and practice,'” she said. “Then I started crying and couldn’t speak.”
Sims found her composure and tallied seven assists and two kills in the opening set, dishing to Madi Fay and Jane Cisar, who combined for seven kills in the frame.
Master’s beat Dordt, the tournament’s No. 5 overall seed, 25-22, setting the stage for what could have been a feel-good ending to one of the most striking turnarounds in school history.
The Mustangs won 18 more matches in 2018 than they did a year ago, earning the program’s first-ever Golden State Athletic Conference regular season and tournament titles along the way.
And even after falling to Corban University and Reinhardt University on the first two days of nationals, the Mustangs still had a chance to earn their 30th win and the 100th of Vince’s career.
Master’s even led set two 14-10 and 23-20 but couldn’t fend off the Defenders (32-2). The match spiraled from there. Cisar put it simply.
“The first two sets were really good,” she said, “the last two, not so great.”
Cisar finished with seven kills, capping a special junior season in which she earned her first All-GSAC award. Sims and sophomore Fay were also picked among the conference’s best.
Fay finished with a team-high 11 kills and no errors Thursday. Regan Tate added eight kills, and Chloe Emory had five.
Sims contributed six kills, 20 assists and six digs, concluding a season that didn’t play out the way she had planned. She entered the season hoping to become the school’s all-time assists leader, but an early change to the team’s offensive system limited her opportunities.
Instead of sulking, Sims earned opportunities as an attacker to stay on the court for six rotations.
It was fitting that Thursday she led the Mustangs in a cheer she had taught them a season ago when wins were few and far between.
“I say, ‘If this is the last time’ … then they respond, ‘The time is right,'” Sims said.
Sims: If this is the last game …
Team: Then make it tight …
Sims: If you’re going to bring something …
Team: Bring the fight …
Sims: Will you play to the end? …
Team: We’ll play all night.
Here’s the box score.