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Blinn tops rival Tyler to win DI volleyball national title
 November 24, 2013


Release and photos courtesy of Blinn College Athletics

Buccaneers win NJCAA national championship

Blinn defeats Tyler in four sets to win second title in three years

CASPER, Wyo. – It couldn’t have been scripted any better: the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams going point for point in the final match of the season with a national championship on the line.

Four sets –– three of which went to extra points –– a great deal of stress later and the No. 1-ranked Blinn volleyball team can cross the final item off its season checklist: win a national championship.

The Buccaneers defeated Tyler Junior College in four sets here Saturday night, 26-24, 25-27, 25-12, 26-24, to win their second national title in three years.

“That’s what we came here to do and that was our ultimate goal and to finally check it off our list is our greatest accomplishment,” sophomore setter Crystal Young said. “It feels amazing –– we are on top of the world right now.”

As they should be.

Tyler pushed them to the brink on multiple occasions. The Bucs had to rally from 23-21 in the first set, then watched as Tyler completed a rally of its own to take the second set. But when Tyler threatened to force a fifth and deciding set late in the fourth, Blinn got a kill from Young and a monstrous block by Kariana Castanon-Hill and Young to end the match (pictured left).

Following that block, the Bucs rushed the floor to celebrate their championship.

“I didn’t see the ball, but I saw everybody cheering and I thought, ‘Oh my god, we are national champions,’” sophomore Bruna Evangelista said, who had a game-high 23 kills. “We knew this wouldn’t be an easy game.”

As it’s become the norm this season, Blinn got solid contribution from every aspect of its lineup: Young’s 47 assists, Alyssa LaMont’s 15 digs and 15 combined blocks, none bigger than the final that clinched the national title.

It was a title that eluded the Bucs’ six sophomores a year ago.

Blinn lost in the semifinals of last year’s Region XIV Conference Tournament, and Evangelista said that the sophomores used that as motivation to not only qualify for this year’s national tournament but win it all.

“I came back this season and told the girls I was really motivated to get to the national tournament this year,” she said. “When we got here, we told ourselves that we need to get that ring, get the trophy. We all helped each other and now we’re national champions.”

Blinn defeated Tyler in all five meetings this season, including on Oct. 22 when then top-ranked Tyler visited the Blinn P.E. Building and was swept by the second-ranked Bucs. From that point, Blinn never gave up its No. 1 ranking.

Tyler did all it could Saturday to try and reclaim the top spot it once held.

“Tyler was amazing tonight. They were tough and it was a battle,” coach Erin Mellinger said, who’s in her second season with the team. “It was a battle and both teams battled hard, but fortunately we played a little bit better.”

The national title is Mellinger’s first as a head coach. In 2009, she was an assistant coach with the College of Southern Idaho when the Golden Eagles won the title.

“I never thought that by my second year here at Blinn we’d win a national championship,” Mellinger said. “But when you come into a program with a tradition of winning, it’s an expectation, and I’m so happy for these girls that they get to carry on that tradition.”

Evangelista was named the tournament MVP, and freshmen Trinity Alualu and Rebecca Reeve were named to the all-tournament team. In four matches, Evangelista combined for 57 kills and a .422 hitting percentage.

Alualu was battling the flu against Tyler and at one point during the third set had to take herself out of the match. She returned in the fourth set, though, and was on the court when the Bucs scored the final point.

“I wasn’t feeling good, but watching my team and seeing how hard everyone was pushing, and their encouragement to push harder and to push me, I regrouped myself and knew I had to get back and help out,” Alualu said. “It wasn’t easy at all, but whatever it takes to work for this title that we have now.”

The Bucs spent seven weeks as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, and Saturday’s win served to validate that ranking. Through the course of their 42-game season, Blinn defeated 10 nationally ranked teams, including four in the top five, and swept 21 matches.

“They accomplished every goal they set out to this season,” Mellinger said.

Though none was more important than Saturday’s match vs. Tyler.

“It was now or never,” Reeve said.

Now the Bucs can cross the final item off their list.

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