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WNCC volleyball team captures Region IX South championship
 November 6, 2011

Region IX Champs.

            Those words are becoming old hat for the Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team as they captured yet another regional title. This time it was their 13th straight championship with a sweep over Northeastern Junior College 25-12, 25-18, 25-21 in the Region IX South Tournament at Cougar Palace Saturday afternoon.

            The win sends the 38-1 Cougars to the NJCAA national tournament in West Plains, Mo., Nov. 17-19, and it will give WNCC a chance to repeat as national champions.

            WNCC played the championship match with plenty of heart and it showed as they had an all-around team effort in capturing the title.

            "We were ready. We came out with a lot of energy and we came out with heart, which we decided to choose as our word today," Scottsbluff's Jodi Huddleston, who was named to the all-tournament team, said. "This feeling right know is basically wordless. There is now way to explain it."

            Well, there is one way to explain it, priceless to an extent.

            The Cougars hammered down 39 kills and committed just seven hitting errors in the contest. And, it started from the get-go as the Cougars ran out to a 7-2 lead early and pushed the lead to 13-5 on a Danika Youngblood back-row kill.

            Fernanda Goncalves, who was named the Region IX South Volleyball Player of the Year, said she this team was focused coming in.

            "We came really ready to play this game because it was the finals and it is half of our real goal, which is nationals," she said. "This win feels satisfifying because we have been working hard all season to win regionals and go to nationals again. it is a really good feeling."

            WNCC coach Giovana Melo, who garnered another Region IX coach of the year hone, said when this team stays focused, they can be unstoppable.

            "I thought we came out pretty strong and played pretty good at the beginning," she said. "I thought we lost focus here and there later on, but overall they were ready to go. They wanted it and we just had to stay focused and on task."

            The Cougars stayed on task in the first set as Huddleston finished off the first set with her third kill of the opening set.

            The second set was back and fourth with NJC leading 18-17 late. After that, Debora Araujo and Megan Johnson put up a brick-wall block to not the score. Araujo then ran off seven straight points, aided by two Youngblood kills before Araujo finished it off with the set-ending back-row kill.

            The third set was just as tight early on, but the Cougars found a way late. Tied at 9-9, Araujo served four points for a 13-9 lead. WNCC pushed the lead to 20-14 on a Johnson kill. Huddleston and Araujo then pounded down two kills each and the Cougars were facing match point at 24-18.

            It took the Cougars three tries, but on the fourth match point, Youngblood tipped the ball over the net for the winning point.

            Huddleston said that they got too worked up about getting match point that they were trying to hard.

            "We were hyped up and we weren't smart about things," she said. "There was a lot of emotions in there and a lot of excitement in winning. At nationals, we have to keep up our energy and play with a lot more heart and more energy."

            Araujo paced the Cougars with 10 kills, 19 points, nine digs and a block; while Youngblood had 11 kills, six digs and three points. Also for the Cougars, Huddleston had seven kills and two blocks; Johnson had four kills and three blocks; Goncalves had eight digs and 31 set assists; Lais Soares had seven kills, three blocks, five digs, and three points; Alex Rivera had 11 digs and three points; and Dani Grace had eight digs.

            NJC was paced by Mayara Prestes with 10 kills followed by MacKenzie Krause with six and Caolina Berger with five.

            Several Cougars made the all-tournament and all-region teams as well. Huddleston, along with Goncalves, Youngblood, and Araujo were selected to the all-tourney team. Huddleston said she was surprised by the honor.

            "It means a lot because I know I have improved a lot from last year," she said. "It just feels so good to be able to play with a team and help them win a regional title and hopefully a national title."

            Other members of the all-tournament team included Mele Samisoni of Lamar; Janessa States of McCook; Jayde Comfort and Camille Kovach of Otero; Kaylee Johnson, Capri Rino, and Chelsea Butler of Trinidad; and Krause, Nikki Schmidt, Mandi Velasquez, and Kirsten Schumacher of NJC.

            All-region selections included Goncalves, Araujo, Soares, and Rivera from WNCC; Berger, Prestes, Krause, and Velasquez from NJC; Samisoni and Laiza Silva from Lamar; Kovach and Maureen Naqica from Otero; and Rino, Johnson, and Jacinta Hoffpauir from Trinidad.

            Goncalves also picked up two individual award, being selected the Region IX South's Setter of the Year as well as the Player of the Year. Rivera was picked as the Libero of the Year, while NJC's Prestes was the Freshman of the Year.

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