Columbia College’s Jacqueline Makokha might not always understand what Nikolina Rastovac says as Rastovac sets a ball to her. Makokha just knows it’s time to go hit the ball.
Rastovac is a native of Laxzarevac, Serbia and Montenegro.
“Sometimes she talks in her language, so I don’t understand what she says,” said Makokha, an outside hitter. “I’ll always ask her and she’s like, ‘Mmm, that’s my language, so don’t worry.”
Makokha’s hard hitting is helping the Cougars advance in the American Midwest Conference Tournament. Columbia College beat the Illinois-Springfield Prairie Stars 30-17, 30-20, 30-17 in the semifinals Thursday at Southwell Arena.
No. 11 Columbia College secured a spot in the championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at Southwell Arena, where Missouri Baptist will try to deny the Cougars their 11th consecutive tournament title.
Missouri Baptist beat McKendree 30-23, 29-31, 30-28, 30-25 on Thursday at Missouri Baptist.
Columbia College (35-6) has won 11 matches in a row for its longest winning streak of the season. Illinois-Springfield finishes 11-28.
Makokha was the AMC and NAIA Region V Player of the Week last week and bounced back from a quiet match in Tuesday’s win against Harris-Stowe. Against Illinois-Springfield, she led the Cougars with 13 kills and 12 digs.
“She’s playing so great right now,” coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said. “Her vertical jump has come back. She had knee surgery in January, and really had to struggle at the beginning of the season. And we struggled as a team at the beginning of the season due to that.”
Makokha said there is still room for improvement in her game before the Region V tournament Tuesday, assuming the Cougars advance. She had three errors and let a serve hit off her wrists for an ace.
“I know I did well, but still I’m not content with myself,” Makokha said. “If I want to play better than that, I need to make less mistakes.”
Makokha is one of a handful of Cougars in their first season with the team. For players not accustomed to the long grind of a season, conditioning is always a concern in November. But Wrye-Washington has her team doing extra running — sometimes even before games — to assure that everyone is ready for the stretch run.
“We look strong,” Wrye-Washington said. “We’re deep in each position. The girls are confident when they step on the floor.”
Rastovac tried to do her best Tracie Ford impression in Game 2, serving six aces and 10 straight points. Ford served 29 straight points Tuesday.
“It made us all think back to the Harris-Stowe game,” outside hitter Jaime Diestelkamp said. “We all had smiles on our faces because we were thinking about what happened.”
Rastovac had 32 assists, and outside hitter Doris Wefwafwa had 10 digs and eight kills for the Cougars.