After battling through injuries and hostile crowds throughout the weekend, the Seward County Lady Saints reached the Region VI Championship match Sunday afternoon in Wichita where they squared off against Barton for the third time in two days. After falling behind in all three games, the Lady Saints were swept by the Cougars to end their season at 23-18 while Barton is on to the NJCAA National Tournament in two weeks.
In their first match of the weekend they squared off with 2nd seeded Dodge City on the opening night of the Final Four. Game one was tight all the way through with neither team leading by more than 3 points at any point during the entire game. The Lady Saints would go up 10-7 with a kill from Sheina Fernandes, which was their largest margin of the game but Dodge would turn the tables and score six straight points to take a 13-10 lead for a three point margin of their own. Seward would remain in relative control the rest of the game with the Lady Conqs never having more than a one point lead until the final point of the game. With the Lady Saints ready to take the first game after a kill from Isabela Silva, Dodge got back to back kills to force a game point of their own in which they capitalized on to take the game 27-25. After scoring the first two points of game two, the Lady Saints were simply beaten to a pulp, or beat themselves into that state if you ask coach Bert Luallen. The Lady Saints committed 20, yes 20 errors in the game as they were blown out of the water 25-12 by the Conqs to put them down 2-0. In game three the Lady Saints scored the first point on a kill from Shelly Malouff and would never trail. They would control the game , opening up as large as a 10 point lead at 19-9 before eventually going onto win 25-23 on a kill from Silva. Game four would see much of the same as the Lady Saints held a 10-6 lead before Dodge City would come back and tie it at 10-10 and then take a lead of their own at 14-12. The Lady Saints would shake that off and storm back to take a five point lead late in the game at 21-16 before Dodge came back to make things interesting at 24-22. With game point on the line Fernandes recorded her 4th block of the match with a solo stuff to give Seward the game and force a deciding fifth game. In the fifth game the Lady Saints started slow and were down 5-3 when Silva went on the offensive. The Seward freshman outside hitter smashed four consecutive kills to put the Lady Saints up 7-5 and they would never look back. They would build the lead up to 11-5 after a kill from Jade Greene and then would salt the game away 15-10 to advance to the tournament semifinals.
Fernandes finished with 19 kills and 4 blocks while Silva notched her first career double-double with 12 kills and 11 digs. Daiane Souza reached double figures in kills as well with 10 to go along with a team high and career high 19 digs. Malouff nearly missed a triple double with 25 assists, 12 digs, and 7 kills and Maddy Taylor recorded 25 assists while Madison Winkelman notched 19 digs.
Next up for the Lady Saints was the Barton Cougars who like Seward, upset a higher seeded opponent in their first matchup when they knocked off the conference champion Pratt Beavers in four games. Seward played well in the first game against the Cougars after beating them in four games in their previous matchup in the Greenhouse. The Lady Saints would never trail in game one, starting the game with a 4-1 lead and extending it to 14-7 with a kill from Malouff midway through. Seward would extend upon their lead to 19-9 with a blast from Fernandes and would take a 12 point lead at 23-11. Barton made a late run to score nine of the next ten points to make it close on paper but the Lady Saints would get the winner and take game one 25-19. Game two was a flip of scripts as Barton led the whole way. They would get up early 4-1 and would lead 13-10 halfway home before Seward crawled back into it late at 23-22. On their heels, the Cougars would score the final two points of the game and even things up at 1-1 with a 25-22 game two win. It was looking like the Lady Saints might get themselves into a 2-1 hole as game three played out. Barton bolted out to a 10-2 lead and kept their distance from the Lady Saints for a while until Seward went on a mid game run to tighten things up and then another to take their first lead of the game at 19-18. Back to back kills moments later from Souza would put the Lady Saints up 23-20 and they would use the momentum to go on and win the game 25-23 after a kill from Fernandes to put them up 2-1. Just when it looked like Seward was going to find themselves in the driver’s seat for the tournament, the Cougars made them think twice with a blowout 25-13 win in game three to tie things up at 2-2. The Lady Saints had just 4 kills to their 6 hitting errors in the game and found themselves reeling as they headed to another deciding fifth game. In game five, the Lady Saints would get out to an early 3-1 and then 6-3 lead but Barton would dig in and score the next seven points to turn the tables and take a 10-6 lead of their own. Seward would then make their own 4-0 run to even things at 10-10 and the teams would literally trade points until the 30th point of the game to remain deadlocked at 15-15. A solo block for the Cougars would put them up 16-15 and then Barton would burst the Lady Saints bubble with another block to finish it 17-15.
Seward’s stat sheet was less than impressive in the loss as they hit just .074 as a team and had just Fernandes reach double figures in kills with 13 in the five game match. Taylor led the squad with 24 assists and Winkelman paced the defense with 27 digs while Fernandes recorded her 4th career 10+ block match with 4 solo’s and 6 assisted sendbacks. Stacie Carver finished the match with 6 kills to go along with 3 solo blocks.
The loss to Barton in the semifinals would send the Lady Saints to the elimination bracket where they would play in their second straight semifinal against the Pratt Beavers. The Lady Saints would play their 3rd straight strong game one as they again never trailed in taking it 25-20. Pratt kept it close but the combination of Souza and Silva on the outside would lead the Seward attack proved too much as Seward went on to win by five. Game two would see the teams tied at 6-6 twelve points in but the Lady Saints would score 5 straight to take an 11-6 lead to keep the momentum on their side. They would keep the Beavers at bay through the remainder of the game, never leading by less than 3 and held a 21-17 advantage late in the game. Seward then stepped on the accelerator and picked up points from four different players with kills from Carver, Fernandes, Souza, and an ace by Winkelman to finish it and give the Lady Saints a 2-0 lead with the 25-17 win. As expected, the conference champion Beavers were not ready to roll over and concede to the Lady Saints and used an 8-1 run through the middle of the game to go up 17-9 after the teams were fighting for position with the score 9-8. Seward would slowly creep back into the game as they looked for the sweep and got to within 20-18 before Pratt again took a hold of the reigns and took home the game 25-21. Pratt kept things rolling right into game four and were up 15-5 before the Lady Saints knew what hit them. Seward would inch their way closer and after back to back combo blocks from Malouff and Fernandes had themselves to within five at 18-13. The Lady Saints would then go on a 5-2 run to cut the lead to 20-18 followed by scoring three of the next four points to even things up at 21. Pratt would score the next three points on Seward hitting errors to force a game point but kills from Souza, Fernandes, and an ace from Winkelman would deadlock the teams at 24 apiece. The teams would trade points to 25-25 but the Beavers would force a game five by scoring the final two points and taking the game 27-25. With the threat of being eliminated from the tournament at stake, both teams battled hard in game five. Neither was able to get its traction and neither would lead by more than two through the first 18 points. Tied 9-9 the Lady Saints picked up a solo block and then a kill from Fernandes to put them up 11-9 and they wouldn’t look back again. After a hitting error would make it 11-10, Seward would go on a 4-1 spree to finish the game and come away with yet another thrilling five game victory with the 15-11 win.
Souza would finish the match with a career high 18 kills to go along with a matching 18 digs while Fernandes and Silva combined for 25 kills and 4 blocks in the win. Malouff paced the Seward offense with 28 assists and also had 9 kills while Jordan Martin posted her career high with 21 assists to help send Seward on to the championship match. Winkelman continued to put up huge numbers in the dig compartment for the Lady Saints as the freshman notched 25 to lead the team while also topping the charts with 3 big aces in the match.
On to the finals the Lady Saints went as they now faced an uphill battle against the Barton Cougars in the championship round. Seward would need to beat the Cougars not just once but twice in back to back matches if they were to stake their claim to the Region VI Championship and a berth in the NJCAA National Tournament. Things got started well for Seward as they took an early 4-0 and then 6-2 lead on the Cougars who had a healthy backing in Fugate Gymnasium. Barton came back to even things up at 7 apiece but with Seward’s custom mid game run, they found themselves up 18-11 after back to back hitting errors from the Cougars. Barton would never get any closer as the Lady Saints continued their strong play down the stretch and finished things out with an ace from Silva to take home the game 25-17. Game two also saw the gals in green get off to a good start but after an early lead evaporated, their opponents from Great Bend would pick up a head of steam and hold control of the game with a lead through the middle part of the game until a Souza bullet got Seward to within one at 21-20 late. With a chance to tie things up, the Cougars would dig in and score the game’s final four points to win 25-20 and even things up at 1-1. It was another seesaw battle early in the pivotal game three. Tied at 11-11 Seward got a block from Souza and Fernandes and then yet another kill from Fernandes to give them a 13-11 lead. They would hold onto the lead and extend upon it to 18-15 until Barton scored three straight to again even things at 18-18. Seward would get the next two on attack errors from Barton but the Cougs would again push back and would go ahead 21-20 before a Lady Saints timeout. Barton would have game point on their side up 24-22 but a kill from Fernandes and then a block from Fernandes and Aislyn Karney on the outside would tie things up at 24 apiece. Barton would go up 25-24 on the next point but a service error on their third game point would again draw the two even at 25. Fernandes then took over, smashing home a kill to put Seward up 26-25 before making Barton pay for an overpass with another kill to take the game 27-25 and put the Lady Saints up 2-1. It was a familiar feeling for both teams as just one day earlier the Lady Saints and Lady Cougars were in the same place with Seward leading 2-1 before a comeback for Barton put them into the championship game with the 3-2 win. After jostling early to an 8-8 tie in game four, the Cougars would get a jolt and score six of the next seven points in the game to take a 14-9 lead and wouldn’t again have to worry about the Lady Saints. The Barton lead continued to swell until they finally ended things with the scoreboard reading 25-14 to send Seward to their 4th straight game five on the weekend. With the momentum and the crowd on their side, Barton was quickly put back on their heels early in game five as Fernandes’ hitting and blocking talents pushed the Lady Saints to a 3-0 lead. The Cougars would come back to take a 5-4 lead of their own but it was Seward County that had the 8-6 lead as the two teams braked to switch sides. The teams would go tit for tat to 12-10 when Barton would pick up a pair of kills to tie things up at 12 apiece. A kill from Silva was matched by Barton to make the score 13-13 but a lift call on the Cougars would put the Lady Saints ahead 14-13 and an errant attack would score the winner for the gals in green as they advance to a winner take all championship match against the Cougars with a 15-13 game five win.
Souza again put up matching numbers in the kill and dig compartment of the stat sheet and set new career highs with 19 of each. Fernandes finished with 13 kills and 8 digs while Silva ended the match with 13 kills, 11 digs, and 3 aces. Carver was the only other Lady Saint to pick up a kill in the match as she finished with 4. Malouff set a new career high in the win with 36 assists and also notched another double-double with 10 digs.
As un-probable as it was after a 1-7 stretch midseason and then another 1-5 cold spell to bring them back to .500 after a 10-1 start later in the year, the Seward County Lady Saints were within one win of the NJCAA National Tournament Sunday afternoon at Newman University. They seemed to have the momentum on their side after a win less than an hour earlier against the Cougars and a newfound confidence, unseen through most of the later part of the season to boot. Barton would storm out of the gates to score the first three points of game one of the winner take all title game, but the Lady Saints would push back and score the next four to take a 4-3 lead. That was the last time that Seward would be in a good spot for the remainder of the day. The Cougars would use the backing of their deafening crowd to go on a 9-2 run and would then build upon their lead all the way to 18-8 before eventually closing out game one 25-15. While still not sharp in game two, Seward was down just 8-6, but Barton would go on another midgame run to take a five point 15-10 lead to force a Seward timeout. The Lady Saints showed some grit as they fought back to within two at 18-16 but would stumble down the stretch as Barton closed game two on a 7-2 burst to take a 2-0 lead on the Lady Saints with the 25-18 win. Down but not out was the feeling for the Lady Saints who made a living this season coming from behind in big matches. However, this was not going to be a match that could be added to that list as they fell behind 6-0 in game three and it wouldn’t get any prettier from there. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, Barton continued to attack the Lady Saints who looked like a totally different team than the one that was celebrating on the same court one hour prior. The Cougs built on their lead to 13-4 and then threw it in overdrive, to which the Lady Saints had no answer, as Barton went on to pop Seward’s bubble with a 25-7 game three win to complete the sweep and send themselves to the NJCAA National Tournament as Region VI Champions and end the Lady Saints season in second place.
Fernandes ended her Seward career much like she had throughout, on top of the Lady Saint stat sheet with 9 kills and a block while the player she might just pass the torch to, Souza finished with 8 and 13 digs in the defeat. Malouff connected on 28% of her sets and finished with 26 assists while Winkelman continued to climb up the all-time digs chart with a team high 14.
The Lady Saints finish the 2010 season with a 23-18 record and in 2nd place in the Region VI Tournament. After starting the season 10-1 and struggling throughout the middle portion of their slate, the Lady Saints again found their footing at the end amidst some obstacles as they took care of business in 8 of their final 11 matches of the season.
A trio of Lady Saints etched their names in the record books forever as Madison Winkelman finishes the 2010 season with the second most digs in a season in school history with 676, Maddy Taylor finishes her Seward career with 1,348 helpers, good for 9th all-time, and Sheina Fernandes finishes her two time 1st Team All-Conference career with 287 blocks which puts her 6th all time and 767 kills which is 8th on the all-time list.