OGDEN, Utah – Senior Laura Katarzynski held sophomore Syd Cole’s face in her hands after a timeout, cheering her on for the next round of play, and that’s what gave the volleyball team of the University of Northern Colorado the title of the Big Sky 2021 conference.
UNC No.2 (24-6, 13-3) beat No.1 Weber State (20-9, 13-3 Big Sky) in five tough sets (30-28, 21-25, 14 -25, 25-22, 15-8).
The two teams have shared part of the regular season title, but this is the tournament’s second championship in three seasons and the sixth for coach Lyndsey Oates.
“I thought KJ (Ince), Laura (Katarzynski), Daisy (Schultz) and Kyndall (Feather), these four seniors were great leaders tonight,” said Oates. “Laura and KJ, it was on the direction of the court. Kyndall and Daisy, it was more feedback between the points and their leadership. But if I had to pick one thing, that’s why we got it right tonight.
Junior Makenzie Harris of Eaton led the team with a career-high kills (23) and digs (22). It was also his third double-double of the season. A feat that is not only impressive in itself, but she only had a .194 hit percentage.
Harris really must have worked for this accomplishment.
“We have nothing to lose and the team that is going to swing is going to come out of here with the trophy,” Harris said of the mood ahead of the final sets. “Being able to flip that switch and realize that we just have to play for each other and play with our hearts.”
Senior Kailey Jo Ince contributed her own double-double with 15 kills and 22 digs, a career-high and her 10th double-double of the season.
The Bears had four players with at least 15 eliminations each, while five players recorded at least 10 digs. Three finished with more than 20.
Oates said that in addition to the leadership of his elders, northern Colorado’s ability to spread the strain is enormous.
Weber State relied heavily on Rylin Adams, who had 27 kills, but only two of his other players finished with more than 10.
So, despite the difficult third set, UNC was able to keep his cool and win. It’s something Oates has bragged about all year – the ability to be resilient and find a way.
That’s why the Bears beat Wyoming in their show, opened the season with a victory over the Big Ten’s Northwestern, and beat Colorado State for the first time in nearly 40 years. This is also now why UNC holds another Big Sky title.
Oates has described the team all season as high risk and high reward. It was very true on Saturday. Northern Colorado finished with 77 kills and 34 offensive errors. The Bears shouldn’t have won with 34 mistakes, but they did. They continued to sway.
“I am so proud of this team and this staff. It’s been a tough year with COVID and ups and downs and shifts in composition, and our team has remained tight-knit, ”Oates said, her children watching her in awe. “That’s what I’m most proud of: the way everyone was all-in for the team. We have talked a lot about beating our opponent this year. And I thought tonight was the epitome of it.
Junior Rachel Hickman, sophomore Lauren Strain were named to the all tournament squad and Harris was the all tournament MVP.
The football team fell to Weber State earlier today, in the presence of members of the volleyball team, but UNC coach Ed McCaffrey said he believed that it was “great” that both teams were in Ogden on the same day. McCaffrey is hopeful the team will be able to support Oates and Co. in their playoff efforts.
The UNC will return to Greeley and prepare for the NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament. It is scheduled from December 2 to 18 and the selections will be announced on November 28.