In the language of postseason play, experience is a bit of a paradox.
To win, many people believe a team needs to have played far into the postseason before, but to gain that experience, a team must win.
For the No. 3 Columbia College volleyball team, experience is a luxury. All six starters played in last year’s NAIA national championship game.
“Our young players will be schooled the first tight moment we have,” coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said. “They’ve been schooled all year that we don’t lose matches here. Even when things aren’t going our way we find a way to win. And that’s not me, that’s the upperclassmen passing that message along to the underclassmen.”
Last year, the Cougars were seeded No. 3 in their four-team pool but advanced to the championship game, where they lost 28-30, 25-30, 30-25, 20-30 to Fresno Pacific University. This year, the Sunbirds have been ranked No. 1 since the preseason.
Some of the Cougars who are new will have to adjust to the expectations to win the national championship.
For one player, though, tournament-level pressure will be nothing new. Freshman middle blocker Nancy Sikobe should have little trouble adjusting to postseason play.
As a member of Kenya’s Olympic volleyball team in 2000 Sikobe said she has felt much more pressure than she will feel in the first round of the American Midwest Conference tournament. The Cougars play Williams Baptist at 7 tonight at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
“I think this is going to be fun,” Sikobe said. “All of us newcomers have to work hard so that we aren’t seen as the group who kept the team from making it to nationals.”
Transfers Tracy Branson and Renee Zimmerman are among four Cougars who were not at last year’s national championship game.
For Zimmerman, tonight will be her first postseason game since high school.
“It’s nice to be on a winning team,” Zimmerman said. “Just playing in general is the best part. We’re a good team. We like that.”
The Cougars (34-3 overall, 14-0) swept the Lady Eagles on consecutive days, defeating them 30-15, 30-12, 30-15 on September 23 in Columbia and 30-17, 30-12, 30-20 on September 24 at Westminster College in Fulton.
“We ran away with both matches and I don’t think they liked that,” Wrye-Washington said.
Wrye-Washington said she won’t jumble her lineup any more, but that freshman outside hitter Amber Hardaway, who redshirted last year, might see time at the national tournament.
Hardaway has sat this year with a torn ACL in her right knee and doctors cleared her Monday to participate in drills.
Wrye-Washington said that if Hardaway is cleared to play for the national tournament she has a good chance of seeing time on the court.