CEDARVILLE, Ohio - Mount Vernon Nazarene University head women's volleyball coach Paul Swanson became the first coach in NAIA history to reach the 1,000-win total as the Lady Cougars rallied for a 21-25, 29-27, 15-25, 28-26, 15-12 non-conference victory at Cedarville University on Thursday evening before a season-high 1,074 fans in the Callan Athletic Center.
The match did not start out all that promising for MVNU as the Lady Cougars fell behind 18-10 in the first set and trailed 20-12 before making things close as the host Lady Jackets (26-6) held on for the 25-21 victory.
The second set was close throughout, but MVNU found itself trailing 22-18 and in danger of falling behind two sets to none. However, the Lady Cougars took advantage of two Cedarville errors, an ace by senior libero Kaylee Hewitt, and a kill by senior middle hitter Gina Porto to knot the score at 22-22. The Lady Jackets scored two straight points and had a serve for set point at 24-22, but MVNU battled back and had three set point serves of their own before back-to-back kills by sophomore right-side hitter Molly Gerber and junior outside hitter Kendra Votaw gave the Lady Cougars a 29-27 win to even the match at one set apiece.
The third set was neck and neck early on with Cedarville clinging to an 11-10 lead. Then, the Lady Jackets went on a 14-5 run to finish out the set as Cedarville prevailed 25-15 to take a 2-1 lead in sets in the match.
Things looked pretty bleak for MVNU in the fourth set when the Lady Jackets, who entered the match 11-0 at home on the season, jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead as Cedarville looked to finish off the Lady Cougars in four sets. However, a 17-5 run by MVNU put the Lady Cougars on top 19-12. The Lady Jackets had eight attack errors during the comeback.
The drama was not over, though, as Cedarville mounted a rally of its own as the Lady Jackets used an 11-3 run of their own to take a 23-22 lead. Then, two kills by Votaw and a kill each by Porto and senior outside hitter Haley Nofziger gave the Lady Cougars a 28-26 win to force a fifth and deciding set.
Cedarville jumped out to an 8-5 early lead as the teams traded sides of the court at the midway point of the set. Then, two kills by Votaw, an ace by freshman Emily Oberschlake, and an attack error by the Lady Jackets saw MVNU rattle off four straight points to lead 9-8.
The teams traded points to 11-11 before a service error and an attack error by Cedarville gave the Lady Cougars a 13-11 lead. Following a service error by MVNU, the Lady Jackets had another attack error and then Porto pounded a kill as the Lady Cougars completed the comeback and set off the milestone victory celebration by taking the set 15-12 to claim the match.
Votaw and Porto paced MVNU with 14 and 12 kills respectively with Porto also leading the team with six blocks. Senior setter Lauren Percival handed out 38 assists to go with 18 digs and three blocks, and senior libero Kaylee Hewitt posted a match-high 35 digs. Nofziger contributed seven kills and three blocks, while Oberschlake served up a career-high five aces. The Lady Cougars prevailed despite trailing Cedarville 70-44 in kills for the match. One of the Lady Jackets' biggest downfalls was 17 service errors.
"(Cedarville) is really good," said Swanson. "When you look at this match, it's hard to figure out how we were able to win. This team just kept believing that it could do it and they found a way to make it happen. Kaylee was phenomenal in the back row really kept us in the match. Lauren did everything she could to get to every second ball. The rest of the team did the rest to give us an opportunity to be in a position to win."
"We've been in a lot of close matches this year, and this team seems to thrive in that situation," Swanson added referring to the fact that
Swanson, who is in his 30th year overall and his 29th season at MVNU, improves to 1,000-365 (.733 winning percentage). After posting a 15-15 record at Waynesburg (Pa.) College in 1983 in his first year as a head coach, Swanson has gone 985-350 (.738) in 29 years with the Lady Cougars. He was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2008.
"First of all, thank God," said Swanson. "He has just blessed this program tremendously. He's caused people to want to come here, and He has just been part of our team dynamics every single year. Without Him, that just doesn't happen."
"Secondly, I thank my wife and family for the many sacrifices," added an emotional Swanson. "Third, it's just the players. I don't win games, they do. The wins get lost when you think about how they have grown as Christian young women. Those are the real victories."
It had become almost a race to win No. 1,000 between Swanson and Madonna (Mich.) University's Jerry Abraham over the past several years. Ironically, Abraham will take his first crack at career win No. 1,000 on Friday when the No. 16 Lady Crusaders travel to Siena Heights (Mich.) University for a 7 p.m. match.
MVNU is now 22-13 overall on the season. The Lady Cougars will begin play in the Crossroads League Tournament with a first round match at No. 4 seed Bethel (Ind.) College on Tuesday at 7 p.m. MVNU finished tied for fourth in the regular-season standings with an 11-7 conference mark.