Cougars’ road to title full of bumps

Wednesday, December 3, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

The past 2½ weeks have been like a roller coaster for Columbia College’s Jaime Diestelkamp.

When Diestelkamp, a senior middle hitter, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee at practice Nov. 14, there was concern that her season was over. The next day, though, Diestelkamp, wearing a plastic leg brace, played in the back row as the Cougars won the American Midwest Conference Tournament against Missouri Baptist.

A week later, she served the final six points to close out Columbia College’s Region V Tournament championship against Central Methodist. Diestelkamp’s knee had been holding up well enough that she played in the front row in practice last week as the Cougars prepared for their 10th consecutive NAIA national tournament, which begins today in San Diego. Columbia College (38-6) faces Southern Oregon (23-5) at 5:45 p.m.

Like any roller coaster, though, a sudden sharp plunge usually follows the ride up. Diestelkamp got her big scare during a workout Saturday.

“I was hitting right side and I just came down on it, I guess, wrong,” she said. “Heard a couple pops and I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

She missed the rest of practice but said it was nothing more than a tweak.

“Everything is just so tired,” she said. “I think my legs are tight.”

It’s back to the back row for Diestelkamp, who will again be limited to serving duties. Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said it would have been unlikely Diestelkamp would have seen time in the front row anyway because her replacements, Shana Aubrey and Dawn Erickson, have done such an admirable job filling in.

In the region championship, Aubrey had 15 kills and five block assists. Erickson finished with eight kills.

“Shana and Dawn have been doing the job just fine without me,” Diestelkamp said. “That’s all I can ask for. They’re doing fine, and I’ll do my part and hopefully everything will work out in the end.”

With Diestelkamp limited to the back row, though, depth in the front is a concern.

“If we have an injury to the middle we’re in a crisis,” Wrye-Washington said.

Sandra Gomez-Botero, an outside hitter, has practiced in the middle in case she is needed.

“She was a middle in her country (Colombia),” Wrye-Washington said. “But not a regular middle, kind of a fill in.”

The Cougars were national champions in 1998, 1999 and 2001 but finished tied for fifth in 2002 and have a difficult road back to the championship match this year.

Top-seeded National American (S.D.) (30-1), the defending champion, and No. 8 seed Point Loma (Calif.) (27-5), the tournament host, are in the same pool as the Cougars. Columbia College plays both teams Thursday and closes out pool play Friday against Indiana-Southeast (34-2).

The top two teams from the pool advance to Friday’s quarterfinal.

“I think this year, we want it more,” Erickson said. “I think we’re out to win it … it’s do or die now.”

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