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Women's Volleyball Hits Three-Peat

By Keiran President
On November 28, 2017

Photo from: http://www.ottawabraves.com/article/6471.php

OU Women’s Volleyball captured their third consecutive Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) regular season title on Nov. 3, with a straight set victory over Bethany College (25-17, 25-21, 25-15).

The Braves last encounter against Bethany College was on Oct. 4, where they were downed in a thrilling five-set battle. This loss, however, did not affect the team as they went on to win their next 11 KCAC games.

This win not only helped the braves capture the KCAC title, but most importantly, it secured their spot in the 2017 NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship for the third consecutive year under head coach Melissa Blessington.

Blessington is in her fourth season as head coach of OU’s Men’s and Women’s volleyball teams. Not only has she led the Lady Braves to three conference titles and trips to nationals, she has also coached 3 KCAC Setters of the Year, 7 All-KCAC performers, 2 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Region selections and 1 NAIA All-American.

Coming in from last year, the team lost six seniors, which saw new girls stepping up in all positons except setter.

“When you have that much change and turnover from year to year it’s a little bit different, but it was nice to see the girls stepping up and playing well,”  Blessington says.

After the season, the team will be losing four players. However, recruiting is not a problem for Blessington.

“Since we had success over the past few years, recruiting has become a lot easier, than when I initially got here,” she says.

Blessington has also credited her coaching experience thus far as the base for her recruiting.

“I coach club volleyball in the area, so that helps out because I have a lot of contacts that way -- and having coached a junior college team for a long time before coming here, so that has really helped me,” she says.

With all this experience under her belt, how does she define her coaching style?

“I am very direct. I don’t change my personality per se based on the person I am talking to, because I have so many athletes. Coaching girls and guys, I coach 13-year-olds the exact same way. I am a little bit more aggressive than my assistant, who is way more passive than I am, but I think that is just my personality in general.”

Elizabeth Heit, or Liz, as she’s known to most, is a junior exercise science major from Augusta, Kansas, and plays libero (a specialized defensive player) for the Lady Braves team. In her first season at OU, Heit split time between the varsity and junior varsity team.

Since then she has played mainly on the varsity team. Heit was one of the four awardees for OU in the KCAC this year, earning Second Team All-KCAC Honors.

Heit says, “I am very excited and thankful that I have been able to make it to nationals three years in a row. I feel really good about the team we have this year, so it will be an interesting week to see how (we) do against the best teams in the nation.”

She also gives some insight on how she handled the transition from year-to-year as the team lost and gained players.

“The first two years wasn’t too difficult to transition since most of the people that were on varsity didn’t graduate, so we had the same players for the most part. However, this year has been the biggest change since we only have about two to three players that have actually played together last year. Our team this year is very young since there were only four seniors on our whole team, but it will make it easier next year since most of us will be used to playing with each other.”

Despite the loss of a key player on the team last year, Heit sees a lot of potential in the team this year.

“I think our overall mentality is more of a unison than it has been in the past years, meaning I think we all have the goal to get a national championship,” she says.

When asked about the contrasting coaching styles between coach Blessington and assistant coach Tom Sorensen, she says, “I would say when Blessington is getting frustrated during a match, Tom takes over on the comforting part. Blessington is a very urgent and demanding coach, so when it comes to crunch time and you aren’t doing your job very well, she will get upset because she sees the potential we have. If Tom sees us getting really frustrated he will try to calm you down and slow things down to try to stay relaxed.”

Going into to the final site for nationals, Blessington says, “I want to make sure we go out and take care of business. Would like to see the girls go out playing aggressive rather than passive. If that is done, I believe we will do well.”

Heit also shares her views and expectations for the team and herself going into the first game against Dordt College at nationals in Sioux City, Iowa.

“As a team, I hope we obviously beat Dordt, but I also hope we all play in unison, meaning everything clicks. During the season, we got in a slump and things weren’t going very well. Now we are a better team, and I think we play together better than before, so that will be an advantage in the upcoming matches as well. As far as personal expectations go, I plan on leading the back row and making sure the passers do our job and make it possible to run our offense efficiently,” she says.

OU Women’s Volleyball team lost to Tabor College in the finals of the KCAC Tournament, but bounced back and made light work of College of the Ozarks in the opening round of NAIA National Championship.

This win advanced the team to the next stage of the championship; pool play. Lady Braves left for Sioux City, Iowa on Nov. 26, and will be taking on Dordt College, Missouri Baptist University and Northwest University in Pool D.

Match Schedules are as follows:

5 p.m. Nov. 28, Ottawa VS. Dordt

8 p.m. Nov. 29, Ottawa VS Missouri Baptist

6 p.m. Nov. 30, Ottawa VS Northwest

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