Injuries have been as much a part of the Columbia College volleyball team’s season as bump, set and spike. So when middle hitter Jaime Diestelkamp injured her right knee minutes before the end of practice Friday, the Cougars did something they have done all season.
Thanks to solid performances from Diestelkamp’s replacements Saturday afternoon, the Cougars won their 11th consecutive American Midwest Conference title, defeating Missouri Baptist 30-19, 30-26, 30-16 at Southwell Arena.
The victory guaranteed No. 11 Columbia College a first-round bye in the NAIA Region V tournament, which opens Tuesday. The Cougars (36-6) will host the semifinals Friday night. The championship is 1 p.m. Saturday.
As runner-up, the Spartans (17-6) receive an automatic bid to the Region V tournament. They will play a quarterfinal match Tuesday.
The bye could not have come at a better time for the Cougars, who could use some time to rehabilitate.
Diestelkamp, who celebrated her 22nd birthday Saturday, injured the knee when she was closing a block to the right side five minutes before the end of practice Friday.
“We just get everybody back, we were looking so good last week,” coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said. “Made me sick. I didn’t sleep last night.”
Diestelkamp landed awkwardly on outside hitter Tracie Ford’s foot and said she won’t know how serious the injury is until her MRI on Monday.
“I felt like it was going to break in half,” she said.
Diestelkamp played Saturday but was limited to serving duties. Wearing a knee brace and limping, she served 19 times, committed one error and had two digs from the back row.
“It was more of a stiffness than anything else,” Diestelkamp said. “But I’ve never had knee pain before, so I really don’t know what to expect.”
Diestelkamp wasn’t the only Cougar injured in Friday’s practice. Backup setter Katherine Weisenborn banged her left knee on the floor and was hobbling during Saturday’s match. Clearly in pain, she played libero and had 10 of the Cougars’ 69 digs.
“Doris (Wefwafwa, outside hitter) said, “‘The devil visited us twice last night,’” Wrye-Washington said.
The Cougars are fortunate to have good depth. Shana Aubrey played in Diestelkamp’s position next to setter Nikolina Rastovac. Aubrey had a game-high 14 kills, a .650 hitting percentage and committed only one error.
“That was my best performance for the whole season,” Aubrey said.
Said Wrye-Washington: “Good job by Shana picking up the slack.”
Dawn Erickson also filled in at middle hitter for the first time. She had four digs and three kills.
Diestelkamp wasn’t the only one to celebrate a birthday Saturday. Outside hitter Jacqueline Makokha turned 30 and celebrated by finishing with a game-high 19 digs to go along with 12 kills. After the game, she was honored as the AMC’s Most Valuable Player.
“I’m happy,” she said. “I thank all my team members in support.”
Makokha also was named Newcomer of the Year. Diestelkamp, Makokha, Rastovac and Wefwafwa were named All-Conference. Wrye-Washington was named Coach of the Year.
Wrye-Washington didn’t want to take too much credit, though.
“Players make the coaches,” she said. “I’m excited that we have players that work so hard for me.”