By Anthony Clark Jr.
In an unexpected turn of events, the Grand Rapids Community College women’s volleyball team will participate in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II National Tournament.
“The past couple days have been insane,” said freshman Audrey Gower. “We are all very grateful to have received a second chance at nationals. We are definitely the underdogs going into nationals but I think that will be a great motivator to push us to succeed.”
After losing to Muskegon in the NJCAA Region XII Great Lakes District A Tournament Finals, the Raiders were left with the assumption their 8-5 season had come to an end as it was not enough to qualify for the national tournament. Most of the players were already constructing plans for the future, whether it would be to return as a sophomore, utilize their extra year of eligibility issued by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), or prepare to move on from GRCC.
“…It was definitely a huge pick me up for our team,” said sophomore Kailey Carmean. “This season has been insanely challenging for every player, coach, and our families. We have worked incredibly hard to get to where we are and it is a miracle that we have the opportunity to compete at the national championship.”
However, Muskegon would find out six days after the conference championship win that their season would come to an unfortunate end due to positive COVID-19 tests amongst the team – thus allowing the first runner-ups (Raiders) to take their place as the 9th overall seed.
Though an opportunity to continue the season has risen, there are some looming questions as the Raiders head to the first round of the national tournament: will their physicality be enough to beat other contending teams who were more than aware they would participate in the tournament? Is the week-long rest from practicing, conditioning, or preparing for another match swaying towards a positive or negative advantage? As an unranked team facing strictly nationally ranked opponents, how well will this Raiders team fare against their opponents?
Carmean said the players are not fazed by these questions as they believe this second chance at continuing the season gives them the opportunity to prove themselves.
“I honestly think that little break was really good for us,” Carmean said. “It gave us a chance to reflect on our season and realize that this is a second chance for us to prove ourselves, and to appreciate this time we have together.”
“We are all very thankful and excited for this opportunity,” said sophomore Kylie Oberlin. “For some, this was their last season so having that second chance means everything to us. We definitely won’t be lacking effort or heart on the court in the coming days.”
Chip Will, head coach for the Raiders, could not be reached for comment.
The Raiders will travel to Cedar Springs, Iowa, to face off against Gulf Coast State College (8th seed) in the quarter-finals of the tournament – the match is set for April 13 at 2 p.m. Spectators can live stream the match through the NJCAA broadcasting network.