After winning the first two sets in the Region 18 Tournament championship match, North Idaho College volleyball coach Colleen Frohlich warned her team that Salt Lake wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Sure enough, the second-seeded Bruins rallied to take the next two sets. In a tense, back-and-forth fifth set, No. 1 NIC fought back, winning six of the last seven points to cap a 25-21, 25-16, 19-25, 19-25, 15-11 victory Saturday at Christianson Gym.
Both teams had already secured spots in the national tournament, which begins Nov. 18 in West Plains, Mo., but they put on a show anyway.
“I was hoping it was going to be shorter, but you can learn from long matches and you can build on them,” said Frohlich, who earned coach of the year honors after directing sixth-ranked NIC (26-6) to regular-season and regional titles in her first season. “In the end, I’m just proud of the fight we had in us.”
They needed every bit of it to subdue the Bruins, who dropped the last three points in a 25-21 first-set loss and yielded eight kills to NIC’s Tina Strahinic in a second-game setback. But Salt Lake found its stride, using nine straight points to claim the third set and a 7-1 run to win the fourth.
“We knew we had more in us,” Bruins coach Sue Delaney said. “It should be that way in a championship match.”
NIC led 8-5 in the fifth before Salt Lake surged back with four straight points. Strahinic, the regular-season and tournament MVP, landed the last of her match-high 25 kills to tie it at 10. The momentum shifted to NIC’s side when setter Gabriella Rifilato made a diving dig and Kaylee Ponce delivered a kill from the back row. The Bruins had two hitting errors and Strahinic and Esther Timofeyev registered blocks to seal a 15-11 win.
“It shows we’re mentally tough,” Strahinic said. “We were in a fifth game (against Snow on Friday) to decide whether we were going to nationals and we stayed mentally tough. I’m really proud of the team for that.”