COLUMBIA — The Columbia College women's volleyball team was in need of a new setter in 2008, and libero Tally Mattos thought she had just the person.
Mattos showed her coach, Melinda Wrye-Washington, some videos of Paula Ferreira, a young setter from her home country of Brazil who she happened to know through a mutual friend.
"It was just coincidence that we met," Ferreira said.
Wrye-Washington liked what she saw, but couldn't tell too much from the small amount of video that was available. She decided to give Ferreira a shot, though.
"I just trusted Tally," Wrye-Washington said.
So Ferreira moved to the United States in August of 2009, without knowing hardly any English.
Now, almost two years later, that trust is paying dividends for Wrye-Washington and the Cougars. Ferreira, 26, is now a sophomore at Columbia College and is the driving force behind the Cougars' successful 2010 campaign.
Columbia College claimed its 18th straight victory Wednesday night in a quick 25-10, 25-13, 25-14 defeat of Stephens at Southwell Complex, leaving the Cougars at 30-2 overall and 12-0 in American Midwest Conference play.
The Cougars have talented hitters, with Vesna Trivunovic and Serena Jenkins providing powerful kills. But someone has to put the ball in the right place for the hitters to finish against Stephens, and Ferreira is that player.
It is a job that can easily get overlooked, but Ferreira does it extremely well. She plays with a sense of calm and does not overthink her job. She simply distributes the ball efficiently to her teammates so that they can rack up points.
Wednesday night she spread the ball around the court and kept the defense off balance, even dumping the ball over the net occasionally for a kill to surprise the Stars even more.
After a solid freshman season which saw her get named a third team All-American, Ferreira has stepped up her game in her sophomore year.
"She is definitely exceeding expectations," Wrye-Washington said. "Her English has progressed quickly, and that allows us to communicate better."
The precision that Ferreira passes with is unmatched by anyone in the American Midwest Conference. Ferreira has 1,028 assists in the Cougars' first 31 matches, good for 10.8 per game.
"You have to have ball control, and you have to pass well to your hitters," Wrye-Washington said. "Tally and Paula are like our point guard and center."
With Ferreira and Mattos, a return to the top of the NAIA might not be far-fetched for the Cougars. The team last won a national championship in 2001, and it has a chance to bring the title back to Columbia this season. The Cougars are ranked No. 6 in the NAIA Top 25.