During the regular season, the Columbia College volleyball team was not challenged by the majority of its opponents and was able to win without playing at a high level.
Against No. 2 Fresno Pacific on Friday at Southwell Complex, the Cougars played the first two games at their typical regular-season level; the team’s passing was poor and it did not mount an aggressive offense when receiving a serve, often hitting the ball right back to the Sunbirds, letting them run their offense easily.
“You can do that against Albertson, you can do that against McKendree . . . it’s a habit,” Wrye-Washington said. “Once we got beat down a couple of times and realized ‘Hey, we can’t do that,’ it was a different match.”
In the third and fourth games, the Cougars raised their level of play, but could not rally from two games down and lost 30-22, 30-21, 26-30, 30-27.
“We didn’t bring our competition level up early enough,” Wrye-Washington said. “Had we started playing like that we would’ve beat that team.”
After playing in her last game as a Cougar, senior defensive specialist Shari Tuttle said she was proud of the way the team responded after losing the first two games.
“I think we stepped up and played a heck of a game,” Tuttle said. “Yeah they (the first two games) hurt us, but we came back and we played well. We can’t look back on those and say we did bad, we stepped up and played ball.”
The loss ended the Cougars’ season and dropped their final record to 43-7.
Wrye-Washington said the lack of difficult competition in the regular season did not ready the team for the national tournament.
“I apologized to the girls in the locker room (after Friday’s game),” Wrye-Washington said.
“I really think our regular season schedule killed us. Playing Harris-Stowe, Lindenwood, it’s just not a high enough level.”
The Cougars have fewer opportunities to play top NAIA teams than a team such as Fresno Pacific. Conference rival No. 9 Missouri Baptist is the only top-25 team in the Cougars’ region, while the Sunbirds had to contend with five other top-25 teams in Region II, including No. 3 Concordia and No. 4 California Baptist, the 2004 and 2005 national champions.
“They (Fresno Pacific) are used to coming out and having to play good or they’re going to lose,” Wrye-Washington said. “We’re not used to that, we’re used to showing up and getting the ball over the net and winning. That doesn’t work against a good team.”
When she makes the Cougars’ 2007 schedule, Wrye-Washington said she will try to play against as many Division I and II teams as possible, something the Cougars did in 2001, when they won the national championship.
“Our talent level was kind of the same (in both years),” Wrye-Washington said. “We played two D-II tournaments and we only played 38 total matches all year.”
Never Upset: All seven of the Cougars losses came against Division-II teams and top-10 NAIA teams. The Cougars lost to Division-II Truman State, No. 1 National American twice, No. 2 Fresno Pacific once and No. 9 Missouri Baptist three times.
Returning Strong: Tuttle is the only senior the Cougars will be losing. Wrye-Washington said having the majority of the team returning will allow the Cougars to use the offseason to get more experience playing together.
“This is the first year in a while where we had kind of a rebuilding year where we can have everyone in the spring,” Wrye-Washington said. “We don’t have to replace a big hitter or a big setter and I think we’re going to use that to our advantage in the spring and have a lot of hard practices.”
Recruiting Thoughts: Wrye-Washington said in addition to the 11 returners, she will be able to add three scholarship players. Wrye-Washington said she will most likely look at junior-college transfers because she wants to add experience, not youth, to the team.