On Friday, Nov. 17, Western Carolina University’s volleyball team lost in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament to eventual tournament champions East Tennessee State University 3-0.
The Catamounts played host to the Southern Conference Tournament, opening the Ramsey center to a weekend of tournament volleyball. The Catamounts entered as a 7 seed, meaning they would play the 2 seed East Tennessee State Buccaneers. With a record of 11-19 in the regular season, the Catamounts looked for a Cinderella story in the tournament.
This goal was not out of reach. The Catamounts had defeated the Buccaneers 3-2 the last time the two teams played each other, back in October.
Unfortunately for Western Carolina, the Buccaneers did not falter in the early round. East Tennessee State opened the match on an 8-0 run, taking the life out of the crowd and taking a stranglehold on the game. Western Carolina rallied, but the early lead was too much to handle. East Tennessee State took the first set 25-22.
The second set was far more evenly matched, with neither team gaining a dominant lead. Unfortunately, East Tennessee State were one step ahead of the Catamounts, and they peeled away at the end to take the second set 25-18.
The third and final set began close, but East Tennessee State pulled away early. The Catamounts found themselves five points down for much of the set. The Buccaneers could see the semifinals and they were not going to let it slip away. The third set ended just as the second had, 25-18.
East Tennessee State went on to defeat the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the semifinals, and then Wofford College in the finals. The Buccaneers dropped only one set in an impressive tournament.
Western Carolina head coach Karen Glover gave credit to East Tennessee State for a game well played.
Glover said, “Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we performed our best in the match on Friday. Credit to ETSU, they played well and ended up winning the championship.”
In spite of the Catamounts falling short in this final game of the season, there is plenty to be optimistic about. Glover focused on the chemistry of the team and their growth.
“The team played hard until the end. They really grew as a team throughout the course of this season and although I would have liked a different outcome, I am proud of this team,” she said.
The Catamounts won six conference matches this season, falling just two wins short of a .500 record. With a team led by five seniors, the Catamounts finished this season with the same record as last year. Both years improved on the record from two years ago. This improvement is due to the number of upperclassmen on the team.
Glover had nothing but praise for her five seniors: “This year’s upperclassmen, and specifically the seniors, were great role models for our younger players. They did a great job of instilling our program values to the newcomers and I am greatly appreciative of their time with our program.”
Losing these seniors will certainly impact the team next season, but Catamount fans have little to fear. Western Carolina will return next year with a strong group of five sophomores and two juniors. These players have been influenced by the senior class, and Glover believes this will lead to great results next year.
Glover said the seniors, “Have laid the foundation for our future success.”
Glover could not name one player who had shone brighter than the rest: she named a few.
“Katie O’Conner and MaKenzie White both were honored by the Southern Conference. Another senior, Jo-Leigh VerVelde has been our setter for all 4 years and had another great season. All of our seniors made important contributions to our program and I am proud to have coached each of them,” she said.
Additionally, Glover will continue to develop the skills of her growing team over the offseason. She looks for, “a definite focus on our offensive execution and consistency.”
With a rising group of upperclassmen and a rekindled focus on consistency, the Catamounts look to continue growing next season and improve in a difficult conference.
Follow the Catamount’s offseason at www.catamountsports.com.