Broncos down Matadors to earn third-straight ticket to nationals

The Bronco volleyball team poses for a pic after defeating Arizona Western College in three straight sets in a Super-Regional match on Tuesday to earn their third-straight trip to the NJCAA National Championships.
The Bronco volleyball team poses for a pic after defeating Arizona Western College in three straight sets in a Super-Regional match on Tuesday to earn their third-straight trip to the NJCAA National Championships.

NMMI Sports Press

The Bronco volleyball team earned its third consecutive trip to the NJCAA National Championships Tuesday, winning in straight sets during a Super-Regional showdown at the Cahoon Armory gym.

After winning the Region V West Championships Saturday in a five-set grind against Midland College, head coach Shelby Forchtner and her squad had just two days to prepare for a match with even bigger bragging rights, and, more importantly, an automatic bid to nationals.

Their opponent was Region I champion Arizona Western College, who boasted a 20-5 overall record and No. 20 national ranking; NMMI entered the match with a No. 12 national ranking of their own, and a 28-7 record.  

Coach Forchtner's hope was that her team would play the rest of their matches this season as well as they played in the Region V West semifinals against Western Texas College, a team they defeated in three quick sets: 25-14, 25-8, 25-17.

It wouldn't be quite that stress-free for the Broncos on Tuesday, but NMMI made the first set look easy, cruising to a 25-16 win.

"We were really in a rhythm," said Forchtner. "We were serving super-tough and just really composed the whole entire first set. We never broke or cracked – and that's a great way to start a match. I hope that we carry that into the national tournament."

The second set was a whole lot closer, with AWC taking an early 7-2 lead. But the Broncos bounced back to take the set, 25-23.

"There was a little bit of a spot where we had to call a time out and calm everybody down," explained coach Forchtner. "And once we did that, we came right back, got the set back to even, and then just kinda took over from there. In the second set, in those first 10 points, we missed a lot of serves. That's something we didn't do at all in the first set. And I think that was a big part of the score difference: we gave them five or six easy points."

In the third set, the Matadors again had momentum early, surging to another 7-2 lead.

"Honestly, we seem to do that every game," said Forchtner about the brief Bronco collapse. "It's usually either the first set or the third. I'm not exactly sure what happens, but it's just a breakdown. We started hitting into their really good, big middles; we made back-to-back errors. But we got back control, got back to even, regained the momentum, and just kept it throughout the rest of the third set by playing a side-out game from there on out. We also had two late runs to maintain our lead at the end."

The Mats made a late three-point run in that third set to close within one, 23-22, resulting in a NMMI timeout. After the break, Gabriela Langi's kill from the left side made it match point. She then combined with Agape Mafua for the block to take the set and match, 25-22.

"I think tonight our serving and our offense were really good," continued Forchtner. "(Setter) Barbara (Celler) did an excellent job of playing a whole, full match. She was really consistent tonight, which helped our offense be consistent. But we really just served very tough and kept them out of system for most of the match, which is exactly what we wanted to do."

Celler finished the match with 38 set assists, four digs, and a perfect 2-for-2 in kills. Mafua was the kill leader, knocking down 14 on 27 attempts; Peyton Schendt had 12 kills in 36 tries; and Langi recorded 11 winners in 26 hits.

On the defensive side, libero Hula Crisostomo led in digs with 11, while four Broncos combined for 12 blocks, each with three: Mafua, Megan Martinez and Katelynn Gutz all had one solo and two assisted blocks, while Schendt had three assists.  

"Tonight and tomorrow, it's all going to be making flight arraignments and doing the paperwork to get our team to the national tournament. But that's O.K. – we're excited about that," laughed Forchtner about the logistical work ahead.  "But really, we're probably going to take a day or two off to just relax a bit, because we've been going a hundred miles an hour every single day since Aug. 1. We'll decompress a little over this weekend, but we've got to continue the grind, gotta practice and stay in a rhythm, because now it's the big show."

For Forchtner, earning the chance to play at nationals, and the memories that creates, is exactly why she took the head coaching job at NMMI in the first place. She is a Roswell native who graduated from Goddard High School in 1996 and played volleyball for the Rockets, went on to play at the juco level helping Seward County Community College finish fifth at NJCAA National Championships in 2000, then finished her playing career at Lubbock Christian University and a trip to the NAIA National Championships in 2001.

"There were so many people when I started here that never thought this program could be successful – and I never thought that for a minute," said Forchtner. "I'm such a competitive person that the moment I got the job, all I wanted to do was create an environment like what I got to experience as a player. My very first year to recruit, I would tell all my kids repeatedly, 'I want to win a national championship. I want to win a national championship.' I was on a team that finished fifth in the nation, and I want everybody that I coach to experience that, too. We talk a lot about that stuff with every team. I want to continue on this tradition for as long as I can, for as long as I'm alive and my heart is still functioning. These kids make it all worth it. I'm tough on them. I run a very disciplined program, feel that my life is disciplined, and I expect a high standard from everyone I interact with, whether players or co-workers. People sometimes get annoyed, but I don't care – I feel like all of that helps us be successful. This is not just me, it's every entity at this school working together to create an environment for success. It takes a village, a whole lot of people to be successful. This what I've always wanted for this program – for these kids to have something that they can look back on and say 'This was a really cool time in my life.' It just makes you feel good that they got to experience it all."

And the Broncos will get a chance to do exactly that when they head out to play in the 2018 NJCAA DI Women's Volleyball National Championships. They don't yet know how high they'll be seeded or whom they will play in the 16-team tourney, but the dates and place are set: Nov. 15-17 in Hutchinson, Kans.