After a season of ups and downs, the Seward County Lady Saints put it all together this weekend in Wichita at the NJCAA Region VI Championship Tournament.

The Lady Saints picked up a first round win over Pratt to advance to the Final Four at Newman University and promptly upset the 2nd seeded Colby Lady Trojans to move onto the winners bracket final. Seward met up with Barton for the fourth time this season and were handled easily by the Lady Cougs to fall to the elimination bracket. Sunday with their backs against the wall down 2-0 against Hutchinson, the Lady Saints came back to win three straight to advance to title match number one. Seward fell behind 2-1 against Barton, but stormed back to take the fourth and fifth game to force a winner take all Championship Match. The Lady Saints and Lady Cougars split the first two games but it was Barton that came away with the game four win and then the clincher to earn a berth to the NJCAA National Tournament while Sewardís season ended in heartbreak for the second straight year, just one win short of the Big Dance.
Sewardís first matchup in Wichita was against a team that had their number over the past two seasons, the Colby Lady Trojans. After falling behind big in game one 14-9, two straight blocks from Aislyn Karney and Sarah Miller got the ball rolling back in the right direction and four kills in a row for the Lady Saints had the lead in their favor 15-14. Colby stopped the Seward momentum and regained the lead 18-16 but the Lady Saints quickly tied things back up and then took the lead with an ace from Daiane Souza sandwiched around a pair of Courtney Geesing kills to make it 22-19. The Lady Saints ran their lead up to 24-19 and looked like they were going to cruise but four consecutive errors drew the Lady Trojans to within one at 24-23. With the game in the balance, Colby sent the next serve into the net and the Lady Saints escaped game one with a 25-23 win. The Lady Saints looked to be well on their way to a 2-0 lead as they stormed out of the gates to a 5-0, then 12-4 lead in the early stages of game two. They maintained a comfortable cushion through the middle of the game and remained up 15-9 halfway home. Another Geesing kill kept Seward on top by six 20-14 and it looked as if the Lady Saints were well on their way to a game two victory. That is when the Lady Trojans began to make their push. A Colby kill and two Seward hitting errors had the Lady Trojans within three and two more Colby kills and another Lady Saint mishit drew the teams even at 20-20. The teams traded the next four points to keep the score even at 22-22 but Seward gave the Lady Trojans two freebies in a row to put them ahead 24-22. Souza kept Seward in it with a kill to make it 24-23 but a ball handling error ended the Lady Saints thoughts of a comeback as they fell 25-23 to even things at 1-1. Tied 3-3 in the early going of game three the Lady Saints made a statement, and that came via an 8-0 run led by the right arms of Karney and Souza who combined for six kills during the stretch to put Seward up 11-3. This time the Lady Saints were bound and determined not to let the lead go and they didnít. Seward continued to build on their lead and after three Bailey McFerren kills, had a 16-7 advantage. After Colby cut the lead down to 17-10, the Lady Saints went on a 3-0 run to take their first 10 point lead of the match at 20-10 and sailed to an impressive 25-14 win to take a 2-1 lead. Game four was a back and forth battle as both teams jockeyed for position early on and neither team had more than a two point lead until Karney picked up a solo block to put Seward up 13-10. The teams remained tight throughout but it was always Seward that held the upper hand. The Lady Saints carried a 23-21 late into the game and with a kill from McFerren put things away and advanced to the next round with a 25-23 win to take the match 3-1. Leading the way for Seward was Karney who finished tied her career high with 16 kills and also posted 6 blocks in the win. Souza picked up her second double-double of the season with 13 kills and 13 digs while Geesing and McFerren finished with 9 and 8 kills respectively. Setter Marina Dias chalked up 42 assists and 13 digs for the Lady Saints and Miller led the club with 7 total blocks. Madison Winkelman and Geesing paced the Seward backrow, combining for 33 digs in the victory.
The Seward win setup a winners bracket final between the Lady Saints and the Lady Cougars of Barton, a team that Seward had yet to solve in 2011 in three tries. The Lady Saints and Lady Cougs played even through the first portion of game one and were tied at 7-7. Barton jumped on top and held the lead until Miller rejected an attack attempt to tie things back up at 10-10. The teams went back and forth until the Lady Saints got their first lead of the game when a Salitza Abrantes serve was mishandled by the Cougars defense for an ace to put them on top 14-13. Barton again evened things up at 15 and took control from that point on, outscoring Seward 5-1 to go ahead 21-16 before holding off a late charging Lady Saints bunch to win 25-22. Game two was a different story as Barton gained control from the onset and never gave Seward a chance. They led 6-1 to start the game and opened it up to 16-5 midway through. Seward went down without much of a fight, losing 25-10 while recording just 5 kills compared to 7 errors, to finish the game hitting -.065. Seward looked like they were going to make a run early on in game four as they took an early 4-3 lead but Bartonís firepower was simply too much as the Lady Cougars went up 9-6 and continued to pour it on until the score reached 17-9 and finally 25-13 to close out the match. The stat sheet was equally as unattractive for the Lady Saints in the defeat as no Seward player topped the 10 kills mark in the match and they combined to hit just .130 as a team. Geesing paced the team with 9 kills while Karney had 7. Winkelman had a team high 11 digs and Dias had all 23 Seward assists in the match.
The Lady Saints loss coupled with a Hutchinson win against Colby in the first elimination match of the weekend meant that it would be longtime rivals Seward and Hutch squaring off with the right to battle Barton in the title match on the line. The Lady Dragons were the aggressors early in game one, jumping out to a 9-5 lead after a pair of Lady Saint errors. Seward bounced back though and after a 4-0 run keyed by kills from McFerren and Geesing, knotted the game at 9. Hutch scored the next three to go up 12-9 but the Lady Saints fought back to tie the game and then go ahead with a block from Karney and then a kill from the sophomore to make it 15-14. The Seward lead was short-lived as the Dragons recovered to again take the lead and this time they would carry it to the end, forcing a pair of late Lady Saint errors to come away with a 25-22 win. The second game looked like it was going to be all Seward County as the gals in green stormed out to a 7-1 lead and then took a 17-7 nod as Hutchinson seemingly couldnít find the court with their attacks. It looked as if the Lady Saints would breeze to the win to tie things up but they should have known better against their arch rival Blue Dragons. Slowly Hutch crept back into the game and found themselves down just six 20-14 after a Seward ball handling error. That is when things went South and in a hurry for the Lady Saints. Six Seward errors in a row tied the game at 20 and just like that, the Lady Saints 10 point cushion was gone. Another errant attack gave Hutch their first lead of the game at 21-20 and the teams traded points until it was game point for the Lady Dragons up 24-23. With the game on the line, the Lady Blue Dragon front line rose to the occasion quite literally as they got a block on a Seward attack to end the game at 25-23. Down 2-0, it looked as if the Lady Saints season was headed towards its final moments in 2011 but this Seward team had different intentions. After going back and forth early the teams were deadlocked at 10 apiece. After Seward took an 11-10 lead on a kill from Geesing, the Lady Dragons pushed back with three points of their own to make it 13-11. The Lady Saints got within one and McFerren would draw them even with a kill at 16-16. The Lady Saints went on to take an 18-16 lead but once again their margin didnít last for long as a persistent Hutchinson team rallied back to erase the lead and go ahead 23-22 themselves. Two straight Souza kills put Seward back ahead 24-23 but the Lady Saints were unable to close out game point twice and were once again tied at 25. A Winkelman to Dias to McFerren combination turned into a Seward point with a kill to make it 26-25 and this time the Lady Saints were not going to let the win slip through their hands as Geesing sent a rocket down the line for the point and the 27-25 win to make it 2-1 Hutch. Seward carried their momentum into game four and took an early lead and never looked back. A 5-0 run midway through put them on top 14-8 and they continued to stretch their lead as their sophomore captain Geesing got hot. Three straight kills gave Seward a 20-13 lead and a pair of Karney kills stretched the lead to 22-14 before finally putting it away 25-17 to even things up at two. The freight train that was the Lady Saints wasnít stopping there and a 5-1 lead out of the gates in game five proved that. A Souza kill put the Lady Saints up 8-4 as the teams changed sides and the change of scenery didnít help the Lady Dragons. Back to back Geesing kills put the Lady Saints on top 11-4 and three more kills down the stretch off of her right hand led the Lady Saints to a 15-7 win to take the match in dramatic fashion. Geesing led Seward with a nearly flawless match as she racked up 21 kills to just 1 error and also chipped in 13 digs for yet another double-double. Souza pounded out a season high 15 kills and matched her career high with 17 digs for Seward. Karney finished with 9 kills and 6 blocks and McFerren had 9 kills and 3 blocks. Dias dished out a career high 48 assists for Seward and kept her double-double streak going with a team high 18 digs as well. Miller had 7 blocks for Seward in the win and Abrantes set her career high with 11 digs.
The win set the Lady Saints up for another matchup with Barton, the two teams fifth meeting of the season. If the Cougars came away with the win, they would be heading to the National Tournament, if the Lady Saints could spawn the upset, the two would meet again with everything on the line. Early on it was all Barton, as it had been much of the season between the two, as the Lady Cougars got off to a 7-4 lead and then opened it up to 13-7 after a Lady Saints overpass. Seward continued to trail through the middle portion of the game and found themselves in a 17-11 hole halfway through. Geesing and McFerren pulled them out of that rut as McFerren came up with a kill and an ace while Geesing put away two kills to cut the Barton advantage to 17-15. Seward climbed to within one at 18-17 but the Lady Cougars scored the next three to again start to pull away up 21-17. Looking to put the game away, Barton committed three straight hitting errors to draw the Lady Saints to within one at 21-20 and Seward got two kills of their own from Souza to flip the script and make it 22-21 Lady Saints. Seward went up 23-21 before a pair of Barton points tied things back up at 23 all. A Seward hitting error made it game point for Barton at 24-23 but Souza came up big with a kill to make it a 24-24 contest. Next the Lady Saints looked to Karney and she put an attack away to make it 25-24 to give Seward its first game point and the Lady Saints went right back to her on their next opportunity and she finished to give the Lady Saints a 26-24 win. Both teams offenses were on target as game two opened but it was Barton that was just a tick better as they took a 7-6 lead. The Cougars put a block on the Lady Saints hitters to go ahead 10-8 later on and Barton outscored Seward 3-1 in the next four points to go up 13-9. The game began to get away from Seward and they simply couldnít stop the Barton momentum as the Cougs opened up a 22-14 lead before going on to win 25-15 to even things at 1. Things were not looking up for the Lady Saints as game three got underway. Barton raced out to a 7-0 lead and went up 12-2 after the Lady Saints sixth hitting error of the game. Seward was never able to make a run to get within striking distance and fell 25-12 to fall in a 2-0 hole. Just when it looked like the Seward tank was out of gas as they trailed 6-2 in game four, the Lady Saints fought back to even things at 6 behind a pair of McFerren kills and another from Souza. The teams traded points and a Geesing kill kept the game tied at 11. A 4-0 burst from Barton put them up 15-11 but Seward returned the favor with a 4-0 jaunt of their own to make it 15-15. Neither team could make any headway and they remained tied at 20 as it came to crunch time. Barton struck first out of the tie with a pair of points to go up 22-20. They remained up by a pair at 23-21 after a hitting error backed by a kill. Another attack error brought Seward to within one and Karney found a hole in the defense to tie things up yet again, this time at 23. The Lady Cougars shot themselves in the foot to finish the game as they sent two straight attacks out of bounds and Seward was the beneficiary of a 25-23 win to stay alive. In the all-important game five, the two teams took turns with one point leads and ties to the 6-6 mark. A Barton service error and then hitting error pushed the Lady Saints out in front 10-8 and it was just the momentum builder they needed. A Geesing kill put them on top 11-8 and a Souza kill kept them ahead by three 12-9. Barton did close to 12-11 but another slam by Souza make it 13-11 Lady Saints. After the Lady Cougars again got to within one, the Seward front line took over. Souza nailed her 18th kill of the match to make it 14-12 and then McFerren needed no help on a solo block to clinch the match and give the Lady Saints the 15-12 win. Refusing to lose, all three of the Lady Saints sophomore hitters stepped up to the plate in this one as Souza led the team with 18 kills, just one short of her career high, while both Geesing and Karney had 13 in the win. Dias topped her career high from one match earlier with 53 assists for Seward and also had 15 digs in the victory. Winkelman paced the Lady Saints with 16 digs while Geesing and Souza both added to their double-double total with 15 and 14 digs respectively.
And here they were again, the same exact spot that these two teams met up in last season. The Seward County Lady Saints and Barton Lady Cougars with a berth into the NJCAA National Tournament field on the line in the Region VI Championship match. After beating the Lady Cougars for the first time in five matches this season in the previous match, the Lady Saints came out in the title bout with a new air of confidence and quickly went ahead 5-1 on Barton. Their lead dwindled as the Jayhawk West Conference Champs battled back to tie things up and then take a lead of their own at 7-6. Seward rebounded from the Barton mini-run to get three kills in four points from Geesing to go back ahead 12-10. The teams continued to battle and were tied at 14 as the game hit its midpoint. A block from Souza and McFerren put Seward ahead and a Barton attack error followed by a McFerren kill had them up three 17-14. The Lady Saints stretched their lead to five when Dias picked up an ace to make it 21-16 but a rash of errors at the wrong time would give the Cougs five points in a row to knot the game at 21. Following a timeout a Barton serve into the net gave Seward a 22-21 lead but two straight Cougar point pushed the advantage back to them 23-22. Another service error tied the game at 23 but a block and a kill from Barton sealed the Lady Saints fate as the Cougars took game one 25-23. The game one loss did not seem to effect the Lady Saints as game two got underway. Seward again played close early the Cougars and after things were tied at 7, the Lady Saints scored five straight, helped by a Dias ace and a Geesing kill to make it 12-7. Seward remained comfortably ahead throughout the middle section of the game, stretching their lead to six on a pair of occasions. Up 18-12, the Lady Saints pulled away. A block from Geesing and McFerren and a McFerren kill made it 20-12 before a kill from Karney finished things off and gave Seward the 25-20 win. For the third straight game, it was Seward ahead early in game number three. A block from McFerren and then a combo block from McFerren and Karney on the next play had the Lady Saints up 5-3. After tying the game at 7, the Lady Cougars scored five points in a row to go up 12-7 and Seward was never able to get within striking distance again. Seward was called in the net and had a hitting error on back to back plays to push the Barton lead to 18-12 and after getting to within five at 20-15, had back to back errors to make it a seven point game before dropping the third 25-17. It was a familiar place for the Lady Saints, down 2-1 after the third set, the third time in the day that it had happened. It was Barton who took an early lead in game four as the Cougars staked themselves to a 6-3 advantage with three straight kills before seeing Seward climb back in with three of their own to make it 6-6. They remained tied at 8-8 until Barton scored two to go up 10-8. The Lady Saints then snuck back with a block from Karney and Miller as well as an ace from Geesing to make it 10-10. A 5-1 Barton run from that point could have cost the Lady Saints their season as they fell behind 15-11 but this resilient group once again showed no quit as they got kills from Karney and Souza and a block from McFerren to get within one at 15-14. Seward still trailed by a single point at 17-16 when the Lady Cougars scored three straight to again take a comfortable lead of 20-16. Once again, the Lady Saints werenít ready to roll over as a kill from Geesing, an ace from McFerren, and an attack error from Barton made it a one point game 20-19. It remained a one point contest after another Geesing kill made it 22-21 and the Lady Saints drew even since the first time since 10-10 when Jayhawk West Player of the Year Paula da Silva hit a ball out of bounds to make it 22-22. Silva, as expected atoned for the mistake with a kill immediately after and then got another to make it 24-22 Cougars. With emotions running high, a Seward misplay on the ensuing serve ended their season as the ace gave Barton the 25-22 win to take the match 3-1 and send the Region VI Championship trophy to Great Bend at the expense of the Lady Saints for the second straight year. The Lady Saints long day came to an end but not without much to celebrate. Geesing finished with 15 kills and a career high 20 digs in her final match with Seward. Souza set her career high with 20 digs, as did Abrantes who corralled 18. Winkelman, as she has for two straight years, anchored the Lady Saints defense and finished with 19 digs and now turns over the reins after playing every single game in her career as the Seward County starting libero. Karney dialed up a double digit kill performance with 10 and also had 3 blocks and Dias finished her spectacular one year career with the Lady Saints with a 38 assist, 11 dig outing for Seward. It wasnít all sophomores that pushed the Lady Saints to the brink of their first Region Title since 2003 though as McFerren ends her freshman season with 7 kills and 9 blocks in the championship match to wrap up an All-Conference first year in Liberal.
The Lady Saints finish the season at 25-16 overall and as the Region VI Runners-Up for the second straight season. Seward will waive goodbye to an outstanding class of sophomores that includes Aislyn Karney, Madison Winkelman, Courtney Geesing, Marina Dias, Daiane Souza, Salitza Abrantes, and Katie Marks who led the Lady Saints to the Region VI Championship match in back to back seasons for the first time since the class of 2004.