COLUMBIA — The Columbia College volleyball team is accustomed to winning.
After finishing the season at 34-2 and going undefeated in the American Midwest Conference, the Cougars won the AMC Tournament without losing a single game. As the tournament champion, the team has a first-round bye in the NAIA national tournament, and it is working to prepare for the challenging opponents that it will face beginning Dec. 1 in Sioux City, Iowa.
“These are games we have to play, games we have to win, just like any others,” Maria Omondi, a senior and team captain, said. “I don’t think it’s a bigger deal or that I have to do this or this because it’s nationals. I just have to do what I’ve done all year.”
Coach Melinda Wrye-Washington agreed with Omondi and stressed continuity in the team’s preparation for the tournament. Although she said the team will focus in practice less on drill work and more on actual scrimmages, the players will not make any major changes to their training schedule in the next two weeks.
“We’re individually strong and we’re strong as a unit,” Wrye-Washington said. “We just need to get on a roll when we get to nationals.”
The biggest challenge for Columbia College will be the caliber of opponents present in the tournament. Though the team is not sure what team it will face in a week and a half, co-captain Cate Eckhardt said the squad knows that it needs to step up its play.
“With these teams, we can’t take anything for granted,” Eckhardt said. “We can’t be making those mistakes and we’re not going to get away with playing bad or missing a play. We’re going to have to play our best to win.”
Omondi said the biggest danger is getting too complacent, since the Cougars are accustomed to playing familiar teams and dominating in most matches.
“It’s not like the regular games, where every serve is an ace, every ball is a kill,” Omondi said. “The teams in the championship are good. Every person serves hard. Every pass is good. Everybody blocks well. Everybody wants it. That’s what it comes down to.”
Wrye-Washington is confident, however, that the team is well-prepared for the tournament. Although there are many new players on the Cougars this year, she said most are accustomed to high-pressure situations. Additionally, she said the team’s strength of schedule has given them a glimpse of highly competitive opponents.
“We’ve played in the competitive games that we need to play in to be in that high-intensity setting and still do well,” Wrye-Washington said.
The Cougars have appeared in the NAIA championship tournament 16 times. Fresno Pacific, which has appeared 19 times, is the only team in this year’s tournament that has more championship experience than Columbia College. For veterans like Omondi, the tournament is just the typical end to a volleyball season. Wrye-Washington said the team knows what it has to do, and must focus only on maintaining their success.