Volleyball team notches 30th victory
Thirty is a nice, round figure.
And that’s the win total of Moraine Valley College’s volleyball team reached for the second straight season. The Cyclones hit that plateau again last Monday after defeating McHenry College 25-9, 25-19, 25-20 in a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region IV playoff match.
Kara Kentner paced Moraine with a double-double of 11 kills and 14 assists while also contributing seven digs, two blocks and an ace. Also chipping in solid efforts were Gina Ryan (seven kills, 14 digs), Taylor Serrano (seven kills, three blocks, one ace), Joanna Curtis (21 assists) and Kayla Manthei (13 digs).
Carl Sandburg College couldn’t derail the Cyclones last Wednesday, either, as Moraine took another step forward in the postseason with a 25-21, 25-12, 19-25, 25-12 triumph over the Chargers.
Kentner, the NJCAA D-II leader in hitting percentage (.440) and its Player of the Week for the week ending Nov. 3, led the Cyclones past Carl Sandburg by registering 18 kills while committing no hitting errors. She complemented her kills total with 23 assists, nine digs, two blocks and an ace.
En route to capturing her Player of the Week honors, Kentner averaged 5.77 assists, 4.44 kills and 2.2 digs per set while recording a hitting percentage of .637.
Alexandria Bojan backed Kentner with 12 kills and three blocks versus Carl Sandburg, while Autumn Seiler put down 10 kills and Serrano eight. The latter also had a pair of blocks. Curtis distributed a team-best 32 assists and Manthei anchored the defense with 27 digs.
The win over the Chargers came in coach Gloria Coughlin’s final home match. Both Coughlin and assistant coach Donna Zidek will step down from their positions when the 2013 campaign officially concludes.
“I don’t know if I touched many lives, but I am certain that I have been touched by each and every player I have ever coached,” Coughlin said. “I am a better person for having had them in my life.
“I’ve been so fortunate to have worked in a great place with great people. I have a heart full of memories that will last me forever. I would like a few more memories — perhaps from one more national tournament.
“I expect to go to the Final Four every year, but this year will be particularly special [with it] being the last time for me. This group of young women have bought so much into our program from the first day of the season and worked extremely hard to achieve this goal.”
Wish it, and it shall happen.
At last that was so for Coughlin, whose hopes for one more trip to the volleyball nationals were realized after Moraine completed play on Saturday. The Cyclones took their last two steps toward a return trip to Ohio by wrapping a pair of wins over top-seeded Kishwaukee around a tough five-set loss to South Suburban College.
The second of those Kishwaukee conquests allowed Moraine to nail down a second consecutive berth in the NJCAA Division II tournament.
“We are very excited to get the bid and look forward to representing Moraine Valley once again at this prestigious tournament,” said Couglin, whose squad will face Owens College on Nov. 21 in Toledo.
“The girls deserve it. They have worked very hard and have learned a lot about the game, themselves and their teammates throughout this season.”
The clincher for the Cyclones was a 27-25, 25-20, 25-20 triumph over Kishwaukee, which was realized largely through the effective 1-2 punch provided by Ryan and Kentner. The former delivered 15 kills while making no hitting errors, 11 digs and a solo block, with Kentner supporting her via a 13-kill, 23-assist, 11-dig, two-block stat line. Kentner was guilty of only one hitting error in 29 attempts.
Both players got named to the All-Region IV tournament team.
Serrano (14 kills with no errors, two blocks), Bojan (nine kills with no errors), Manthei (11 digs, 30 good receptions) and Curtis (30 assists) also pitched in to Moraine’s success. This was one of the Cyclones’ most complete matches of the year as they chalked up 58 kills and made just four hitting errors in 116 swings.
In Moraine’s earlier 25-12, 25-23, 25-13 defeat of Kishwaukee, Kentner (16 kills, 15 assists, 10 digs, one ace, one block) was the top gun, but Ryan (nine kills, three solo blocks, 14 dogs) and Serrano (eight kills) were able accomplices. Additional help came from Bojan (seven kills) and Curtis (26 assists, 12 digs, three aces).
In between those matches, the Cyclones absorbed a 17-25, 25-17, 25-22, 18-25, 15-12 setback to SSC, which officially entered the Bulldogs into the NJCAA tournament.
Five runners represented Moraine in Saturday’s NJCAA Division I Championship and two of them registered personal-best times at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
Cool and windy conditions evidently appealed to the Cyclones’ two female competitors, as both Aileen Gorman and Jessica Flores ran better than at any other point of the season. Gorman completed the 5K event in 19 minutes, 49 seconds, which landed her in 50th place, while Flores clocked a 22:05. That was good for the 208th position in a 281-competitor field.
“Aileen was really determined to do well — she was disappointed with her race at regionals,” Moraine coach Mark Horstmeyer said. “We couldn’t be prouder of her. She beat all but one runner from our region under much harsher conditions than at the regional tournament. It was an excellent performance.
“Jessica also went for it. She has been battling shin splints all season, and she came up big. We’re really proud of her. She forgot about all the adversity and just went for it — that says a lot about her determination and desire to excel.
“We told Aileen and Jessica before the race that Moraine Valley runners traditionally do well at nationals, and we thought they could, too. They did not disappoint [and] this will be a strong motivator for both of them to return to nationals next fall. They were outstanding representatives of their school.”
On the men’s side, Dawid Palac set the pace for Moraine by taking 123rd among 298 participants in the 8K race. He hit the chute in 28:08. Brandon Ceh (202nd in 29:38) and Thomas Cira (226th, 30:07) also ran for the Cyclones at the national level, Cira doing so for the second straight season.
“Conditions were tough — gusty winds on a wide-open, rolling course — but they persevered, and I’m very proud of their achievement,” Horstmeyer said. “It was a good day for the Moraine Valley Cyclones. They represented their school very well and finished their season on a strong note.
“This was Thomas’ last junior college race, and it’s a great place to finish his two-year stint: at the national championship. We’re really pleased with his accomplishment [of being] a two-time national qualifier. It’s a lifetime experience and well-deserved.”
Horstmeyer also had high praise for Palac and Ceh.
“These are first-year runners who gained a lot of experience,” he said. “Their effort at nationals was exemplary. We couldn’t be happier for them.
“They now have something they will always remember, and it will be a strong motivator for them to work hard over the offseason so they can qualify again.”
The soccer season ended too soon for the Cyclones, but improvements throughout the year, a couple of impressive matches and a strong team bond made 2013 worthwhile.
It was a slow start for Moraine, which allowed 26 goals in its first four matchups. Once the players settled into their positions, however, they jelled. During one midseason stretch, the Cyclones gave up just five goals over seven matches, and they ended the year with fewer markers surrendered than in the season before.
All-Region IV and Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference players Patricia Tuxford (Richards) and Jill Kossifos (Mt. Assisi), and all-conference selections Kathleen Gribbon (Marist) and Samantha Reyes (Marist) greatly aided Moraine keeper Diana Lozano (Richards) defensively. Lozano was not originally a netminder, but quickly learned the position and grew stronger as the season progressed.
Although the Cyclones finished with an overall 6-7-1 record (2-3-1 in the ISCC), they surprised a couple of tough competitors. Morton College, one of the top conference teams, was held to a 1-1 deadlock after two overtimes. Moraine also stepped up its game in a playoff match with Elgin College, a team the Cyclones lost to early in the season but then defeated 2-1 to advance to the Region IV semifinals.
“I would have liked to do better, and we weren’t where I wanted us to be offensively, but we did win games where some teams looked better on paper,” Moraine coach Jim Knawa said. “They played better than their element at times and surprised a lot of people. This close-knit team really bonded. I’m proud of them.”
Offensive production is high on the list of priorities next season, which is a challenge when a majority of south-suburban high school teams focus on defense. With the potential return of this year’s freshmen and the recruitment of some offense, the Cyclones should have a strong foundation on which to build in 2014.
Four clutch free throws were key to the Cyclones’ latest win, as they edged Kennedy-King College 59-55 last Tuesday.
Things didn’t go Moraine’s way early on, as it fell behind by as many as 14 points in the first half. The Cyclones regrouped at the break and used a 20-4 run to climb back into the hunt. Moraine got up by seven at one juncture, but back-to-back unforced errors eventually helped Kennedy-King pull even at 55-all.
However, Sam Holler (Sandburg) was fouled after snaring an offensive rebound and sank both free throws. Aileen Gorman then made a steal, drew a foul and hit two charity tosses to establish a four-point margin with seven seconds remaining and seal the deal for the Cyclones.
In her first game following a successful cross country season, Gorman totaled eight points, six rebounds and four assists in only 20 minutes of action. Maggie Yandel and Katie McGann scored 18 and 12 points, respectively, to fuel Moraine’s offense, while Jamilla Jones collected a team-high 12 rebounds.
In their season opener on Nov. 2, their first test with new coaches and a new system, the Cyclones lacked fire on the court.
It wasn’t pretty, as Moraine fell to a 109-64 defeat against Kishwaukee College. According to first-year boss David Howard, both players and coaches were missing a cohesive vision, which prompted him to “go back to the drawing board and [have everyone] work harder.”
“Kishwaukee is a great team that is well-coached, [but] we were outcoached and outplayed,” Howard said. “We have a week-and-a-half before we play again. We must work hard and not make excuses.”
Johnte Shannon had 19 points and four assists for the Cyclones in the setback, while Kyle Ward scored 18 points.