Maybe Columbia College was overmatched Saturday and lost to a better team. Perhaps the pressure of a 126-match home winning streak was too much.
Whatever it was, when Katie Gaspers’ serve hit Shana Aubrey’s clutched fists and fell to the ground, an NAIA record winning streak came to a close.
It had been nearly nine years since the Cougars dropped a home match, and that came to a sweeping end at Southwell Arena as No. 4 College of St. Mary (Neb.) kept its season unbeaten streak intact, beating the Cougars 30-21, 30-20, 32-30.
The loss was the Cougars’ first at home since Oct. 8, 1994, when Dordt (Iowa) College beat the Cougars.
“I feel so bad,” setter Nikolina Rastovac said. “I’m a freshman, and I heard that this team never (loses) on this court, and I feel so bad because I am on the team to lose.”
Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said she wasn’t as upset.
“I think the streak on the home court, that really got to us today,” Wrye-Washington said. “I’m kind of glad, as a coach, that it’s over.
“It’s definitely been a lot of pressure on the team, and now that we don’t have that, we can move on.”
The Flames were tough all afternoon, taking advantage of the Cougars’ sloppy play in the first two games and then holding off Columbia College in the third game to improve to 16-0.
“Right now, we’re just concentrating on our season,” coach Trish Siedlik said. “This was another game that we wanted to win, and we knew it was going to be a battle. (Ending the streak) came second.”
Columbia College (20-5) saved its best effort for the third game, but that wasn’t enough. The Cougars took a 25-22 lead but squandered it. Hitter Christi Huigens’ tip tied it at 25, and the teams traded points until St. Mary scored two in a row to take a 30-29 lead.
“We got up, we were rolling, rolling, rolling,” Wrye-Washington said. “And then we started thinking, ‘oh boy, hope we don’t lose.”
With the match on the line, outside hitter Doris Wefwafwa’s kill kept Columbia College alive. Flames setter Marla Mach’s fourth kill of the match put St. Mary back in front, though. That set it up for Gaspers to win it.
“I was 12 the last time they lost in this gym,” hitter Hannah Sheehan said. “It’s just amazing to us.”
The Cougars hurt themselves in the first two games, committing 18 errors. In the first game, a hitting error sparked a 7-0 Flames’ run that put the game out of reach. St. Mary used a 10-0 run to open the second game after Columbia College had taken the lead.
Middle hitter Jaime Diestelkamp, a member of the 2000 Cougars team that had a 102-match winning steak snapped, said her team was dejected after the loss.
“Everybody’s hurt,” she said. “We messed up something that this school stands for. It’s over now.”
Wefwafwa led the Cougars with 17 kills, and outside hitter Jacqueline Makokha added nine kills in 32 attacks, but the Flames’ frontline of Sheehan and middle hitter Sandy Kirchner was too tough. Sheehan led St. Mary with 11 kills, and Kirchner added eight.
“We have a very big line,” Siedlik said. “We have kids moving all around all the time. So, (for) the other team, it’s really hard to keep track the hitters in that aspect.”