By RICK SOLEM
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The Viterbo University run to a NAIA national championship ended one game away.
The V-Hawks lost Saturday in the semifinals to defending NAIA champions, Texas-Brownsville, 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-22) at the Tyson Center.
In getting to the final four – the furthest in school history – the ninth-ranked V-Hawks (39-9) overcame losing their setter in the final round of pool play and being seeded ninth, having to face the No. 1 team in the nation to get to this point.
Saturday, the bad luck continued. Setter Briana Brinkman – Viterbo’s all-time leader in assists – came down with the flu and did not play against the fifth-ranked Ocelots (34-4). She was rested earlier in the tournament because of knee soreness.
Freshman Amelia Grahn replaced her and finished with 28 assists and eight digs. NAIA kills leader Alicia Olson finished with 18 kills. The senior had just three hitting errors and a hitting percentage of .278.
The rest of the team, however, fared much worse. Subtracting Olson’s numbers, Viterbo had just 17 kills, 16 errors and a hitting percentage of .014. It was almost as if Brownsville let Olson get hers and focused its defense on the rest of the V-Hawks.
The Ocelots hit .221 with 44 kills and 17 errors.
In the first set, the two teams went back and forth up until 13-13. At that point, Brownsville went on a 3-0 run and that was cushion enough.
The next set started out much worse for the V-Hawks. Brownsville opened with a 10-2 run, but Viterbo fought right back.
An Olson kill started a 9-0 run. The V-Hawks then took an 11-10 lead on an Olson solo block, but the Ocelots got back on top and didn’t give the lead back.
The third set started like the second, with Brownsville getting up 5-1. Again, Viterbo fought back.
It was tied 11-11. Tied 13-13. And again at 14-14. Back-to-back Olson kills helped the V-Hawks get a 16-14 lead. That was short-lived, however. Down 18-16, Brownsville went on a 5-1 run to get ahead and the V-Hawks never led again.
A kill by Natalie Geidel pulled Viterbo within 21-20, but the Ocelots scored three in a row thereafter.
Olson had back-to-back kills to pull her team within 24-22, before an Anna Siruckova’s kill ended Viterbo’s season.
Viterbo came into the match with players in the Top 10 in kills (Olson), assists (Brinkman) and digs (Jennifer Krentz, who had 17 digs Saturday). Brownsville had no such players. Their top hitter had half as many kills as Olson. Their setter came into the match 12th in the NAIA in assists.
The Ocelots seem to be a team that does everything well and nothing spectacular, statistically speaking, anyway. Brownsville’s defense came up with 59 digs against Viterbo – 22 by one player and 15 from another. The V-Hawks hit just .125 as a team.
Two years ago, the V-Hawks made it as far as the quarterfinals, before losing to the NAIA runners-up.