For 18 years, conference opponents have not been able to topple the Columbia College volleyball team.
With its 30-11, 30-14, 30-27 sweep of William Woods (12-16, 5-7) on Monday at Southwell Complex, the Cougars (33-4, 12-0) continued their tradition of domination and clinched the American Midwest Conference title. During the seven seasons coach Melinda Wrye-Washington has led the team, the Cougars have only lost one regular season conference game.
The program’s winning tradition is something players are well aware of when they take the court. Its success breeds high expectations each season, something that is frustrating for players.
“I think some people may take it for granted, it’s harder than it looks,” senior libero Shari Tuttle said.
The Cougars’ main problem during the conference season has been a tendency to play down to lesser opponents. In the third game Monday, the Cougars fell behind 10-3 after never trailing in the first two games. Wrye-Washington said the team did not play with a sense of urgency.
“They know they can win and they can turn it up,” Wrye-Washington said. “I think even the crowd knew we were going to win, even down the stretch.”
Another reason the Cougars don’t stay on top of their game is that games often are played at a lower level than practice. In practice, the Cougars scrimmage against each other and their coaches, all three of whom were all-Americans.
“We play our guts out in practice,” Wrye-Washington said. “Everybody leaves with sweaty shirts, bleeding. We all leave, coaches included, bleeding and mad at each other and then we have to come out and play a team we know we’re going to beat and we relax.”
The Cougars say they need to find ways to motivate themselves to play at a high level throughout a match.
“I would rather go out and play tough teams every time than play at a lower level,” Tuttle said. “When you’re up 20-some points it’s hard to stay focused and push through.”
Lack of focus has been a problem for Columbia College volleyball since Wrye-Washingon’s playing days in 1994, and Wrye-Washington has not found an effective solution for the problem despite trying things such as instituting a team penalty for the point spread of a match.
“At Harris-Stowe State University last year or the year before, I said OK, every point over 10 that they score, we’re going to run,” Wrye-Washington said. “We ran on their court after we beat them in three badly. It didn’t do any good, the next game we came back out and it was the same thing.”
At Monday’s game, the regular season home finale, Cougar fans participated in a “Pink Out” where many fans purchased pink tee-shirts for $5 at the gate with proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Cougar softball player Stephanie Kababie had the idea for the fundraiser and said it was important for Columbia College athletes to be involved in helping their community. The fundraiser brought in more than $1,500.