When Columbia College’s Jaime Diestelkamp tore her right anterior cruciate ligament in practice Nov. 14, there was concern that she might not be able to play again this season. It seemed unlikely that she would serve the Cougars to the NAIA National Tournament.
Saturday afternoon at Southwell Arena in the Region V Tournament championship, Diestelkamp did just that. Wearing a brace on her leg and limited to serving duties for the third match in a row, she polished off Columbia College’s nerve-racking 30-19, 30-20, 34-36, 30-24 win against Central Methodist, serving the final six points to put the Eagles away.
“Jaime really saved us again,” Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said. “She came back and just served them off the court.”
The Cougars earned their ninth straight regional title.
Diestelkamp’s timing couldn’t have been better. With one of the national tournament’s five at-large bids unlikely to go to a Region V team, securing the region title, and an automatic bid carried added importance.
The tournament is Dec. 3-6 in San Diego.
The match probably shouldn’t have gone to a fourth game, but Columbia College (38-6) blew a 24-16 lead the Game 3. Eagles middle hitter Edna Chumo was unstoppable down the stretch, and outside hitter Whitney Ralph’s ace finished off the comeback.
“I know for myself, the first and second game we were so explosive,” Cougars middle hitter Dawn Erickson said. “And then that third game we just started to plateau back down.”
After the Cougars squandered the third game, an uneasy feeling set in around the arena as Central Methodist (30-8) battled to take a 24-23 lead. Sarah Schenk’s hitting error tied it and set the stage for Diestelkamp’s serving.
Chumo finished with a game-high 22 kills, and she was named the Region V Player of the Year after the match.
Outside hitters Jacqueline Makokha and Doris Wefwafwa and setter Nikolina Rastovac were named to the All-Region team. Wrye-Washington won Coach of the Year, and Rastovac was named Setter of the Year.
Wefwafwa led Columbia College with 17 kills. Makokha and outside hitter Shana Aubrey had 15 kills.
Rastovac had 62 of Columbia College’s 72 assists.
Her award came as a surprise; she said she had no idea such an award existed until her name was announced.
After Saturday’s struggle, the Cougars are happy to be going to San Diego. They won’t use their time to sit around and enjoy the nice weather, though. Erickson said the trip is strictly business.
“We’re going for the games,” she said. “I don’t care if we were going to Canada or Arkansas. I don’t care where we’re going ... we’re going there to get a ring.”