Just shy of perfection: After undefeated regular season, Roadrunners earn second place at the NWAC Volleyball Championship

Sydney Amundsen dives for the ball during the 2016 NWAC Championship against the Lower Columbia Red Devils. Photo by Elliot Pond
Sydney Amundsen dives for the ball during the game against the Lower Columbia Red Devils. Photo by Elliot Pond

TACOMA, Wash. — Linn-Benton’s volleyball team led an unexpected season.

LBCC remained undefeated through both the pre- and regular seasons, entering the Northwest Athletic Conference Volleyball Championships with 39 straight wins, intent on taking home a title. On Nov. 20, they took on the Lower Columbia Community College’s Red Devils for the 2016 championship title and lost.  

The NWAC Championship game had players diving across the court to make split-second saves, the volleyball ricocheting off outstretched arms to skim the net. Screams, cheers, and the thud and thwack of the volleyball boomed through the echoing Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, as deafening and intense as the game itself.

The Roadrunners played two games against the Red Devils, coming out of the loser’s bracket to win the first match 3-1. The Devils hit strong during the first set, overtaking the Roadrunners’ lead by 2 points at the end of the set, 28-26. But the Roadrunners locked into rhythm during the next three sets, taking their leads early and blocking ferociously, winning 25-17, 25-14, and 24-18.  

Katelyn Allen and Montanna Gubrud scream after the first victory at the NWAC Volleyball Championship. Photo by Elliot Pond
Katelyn Allen and Montanna Gubrud scream after the first victory at the NWAC Volleyball Championship. Photo by Elliot Pond

After a 30-minute break, both teams came back fighting during the tiebreaker match. LB setter Montanna Gubrud started the match with an ace and the Roadrunners stayed ahead for most of the set. But the Red Devils pushed hard, catching up to the Roadrunners 20-20. After an ace serve by Haylee Savage, several kills and out-of-bounds points, the Devils won the set 25-22.

As the teams neared the end of the tiebreaker match, the once-contained game began to spin loose of LB’s grasp. Three out-of-bounds points and a service error widened the gap and the Red Devils slipped further ahead.  Two LB players collided and slid to the feet of fans in the stands, attempting to save themselves from giving up another point toward a loss.

Ultimately, Linn-Benton faltered, losing momentum and the second set 25-20. Something was off, and they couldn’t get it back.

“The first game we came out and we did really good; the second game we came out we had tons of energy still, but mistakes just started piling up. We still played hard,” said Katelyn Allen, freshman outside hitter.

The Roadrunners lost the tiebreaker match, 0-2.

“We didn’t play our game,” said LB coach Jayme Frazier. “We never hit where we have all season, which is in the 200s, close to 300s. You know, that’s what we relied on all season to get us through and then we backed off; that backfired on us. Our defense didn’t pick up the slack.”

At the end of the match, LBCC players’ faces crumbled with the realization of their loss while the Red Devils fell into a screaming heap on the court floor, celebrating.

“At the beginning of today it’s certainly not where we thought we’d be, but at the beginning of the season, taking second place and getting to the championships was our goal,” said Frazier.

The Roadrunners were calm and graceful as they accepted second place, though some tears were shed.

Montanna Gubrud connects with the volleyball for a kill. Photo by Elliot Pond
Montanna Gubrud returns a serve. Photo by Elliot Pond

“This is a tough loss for everybody but in the end it was a very successful season, 45-2,” said Frazier.

And after a season that strong, how could anyone call them anything less than champions?

“This loss feels like it almost makes a winning season into a losing season,” said Peter Allen, LB fan and father of freshman Katelyn Allen. “But they dominated the conference; they totally dominated the whole season. They may not feel like winners right now, but they are.”

With their 45-2 record, Linn-Benton held the top spot in the standings throughout the season. They finished ranked number two in total assists and total kills.

“I think our main thing is just playing together and that’s what has kept us so strong,” said Katelyn Allen, freshman outside hitter. “We probably won so much because we love each other and we play for each other; I think after that first loss [against Chemeketa] we really thought about that and came back together as a team.”

The Roadrunners experienced their first loss of the season against Chemeketa on Friday, Nov 18. A familiar opponent, LBVB competed against Chemeketa all year in the Southern Region of the NWAC, dropping their first set of the season in a match against Chemeketa in October.

“I knew that they played really well and we didn’t play our game at all, so if we got an opportunity to play them again we would play much better. They were our league opponent so I really tried to focus on not just revenge, but to come back and do it again the way that we know that we can,” said Frazier.

After their first shake-up, the team rallied for three consecutive wins on Saturday, pulling them through the loser’s bracket to Sunday’s championship games. This included a cathartic 2-0 win against Chemeketa.

“The next three matches we really came out with a lot of passion and made it through,” said Frazier.

The team, though saddened by the first-place loss, echoed their coach’s attitude.

“It [NWAC Championship] was intense,” said Alyvia Sams, LB’s libero. “ We knew we were going to be the team everyone was gunning for. I think we rose up and took the challenge. When we had that first loss it was hard, but we rallied together and came back to be in the championship. I’m really proud of us for doing that. It stinks to lose, but it was really special to be here.”

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Roadrunners pose after taking second place. Photo by Elliot Pond

Story by Emily Goodykoontz

Photos by Elliot Pond