Ten games into the 2003 season, three new Cougars players have Columbia College looking in midseason form.
First-year players Jacqueline Makokha, Doris Wafwafwa and Nikolina Rastovac led the Cougars to the title of the KMIZ/Best Western Tournament, sweeping Indiana Wesleyan 30-21, 30-18, 30-18 in the final Saturday night at Southwell Arena.
The Cougars went 5-0 in the tournament and improved to 8-2. The Wildcats, ranked No. 22 in the NAIA preseason poll, dropped to 4-1.
Wafwafwa, a middle and outside hitter, finished with 12 kills against the Wildcats in her second day with the Cougars. Rastovac, a setter, made 37 assists while Makokha, an outside hitter, added 25 digs.
“They bring everything,” Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said. “I think more than anything they bring leadership.”
Junior outside hitter Tracie Ford said: “We watch them get up and hit it and be aggressive, (that) motivates all of us to get up and work just as hard.”
The hard work and aggressive play paid off for the Cougars, who held double-digit leads in all three games. Indiana Wesleyan managed to keep it relatively close in the second game, closing to within 17-15 before Ford served six straight points, including a pair of aces, to put the Cougars comfortably ahead. Rastovac set up junior Shana Aubrey for the spike that closed out that game.
The Cougar veterans did their part as well. Ford, finished with 14 kills, 11 digs and three aces. Aubrey had four kills and six digs.
Winning the tournament could not have come at a better time for Columbia College.
Hampered by the flu and player ineligibility, the Cougars struggled to find consistency during the first week of the season. Columbia College entered the tournament coming off a loss to Truman State, and had dropped to 3-2 after being ranked No. 5 nationally in the NAIA preseason poll.
The NAIA didn’t clear Wafwafwa to play until Friday morning, and she made her debut that night. Rastovac, suffering from the flu, didn’t play Friday. Aubrey and junior Lacey Harter also had felt ill, but both played Saturday.
Washington said she was happy to finally have her team together on the floor, even if the Cougars were not completely recovered.
“Having everyone finally out there together, and kind of healthy, is exciting for us,” she said.
Despite the rigors of playing three games Saturday, Columbia College benefited from playing on its home court.
“I think it’s a big advantage. We’re able to go back to the dorm rooms and rest,” Ford said. “A lot of our fans were able to come, so we had them.”
The Cougars beat the University of St. Francis (Ill.) 30-21, 30-19, 30-16 to advance to the title game.