It was a battle of Top 20 ranked teams between No. 4 Western Nebraska Community College and No. 17 Northeastern Junior College.
In the end, the 17th-ranked NJC Plainswomen stung the Cougars on their own court, earning the sweep 25-23, 25-23, 25-21 in a Region IX South Sub-region contest at Cougar Palace.
NJC’s win Wednesday gave the regular season sweep over the Cougars and earned them the No. 1 seed in next week’s Region IX tournament that will be played at Cougar Palace. The Cougars received the No. 2 seed.
The loss drops the Cougars record to 27-4 on the season while NJC moves to 20-6.
WNCC will look to get back on the winning track as they get ready to host the WNCC Classic that won’t be an easy go. The Cougars begin that quest on Thursday when they host No. 12 San Jacinto College at 7 p.m. followed by two games Friday when they play Laredo Community College at 1 p.m. and then No. 2 Iowa Western Community College at 7 p.m.
WNCC coach Binny Canales said they can learn from this match because they don’t have time to get down.
“I hope this match makes us better. We don’t have time to practice. We turn around and play No. 12 tomorrow (Thursday),” he said. “We can get better. This wasn’t our best match by far and we have to grow from this.”
Wednesday’s contest was a matter of NJC making more service runs than the Cougars as well as the team that made the lesser of errors.
All three sets were close. The first set WNCC held leads of 10-9, 13-12, 15-13, and 16-14. It was after that lead which changed the momentum in NJC’s favor as Sara Antic had three service points, including two aces for a 21-17 lead. WNCC sliced the lead to 23-21 on back-to-back Sarena Bartley kills but NJC won the first set 25-23.
The second set saw WNCC lead 8-4 and later 12-12 on a Kaile Tuisamatatele kill. Once again, Antic had three service points for a 14-12 NJC lead. NJC led 20-16 before WNCC came back to take a 22-21 lead on two Aneta Faksova service points. After that, NJC’s Kacey Jaeger served the final two points for the 25-23 lead.
WNCC came out in the third set with some fire, leading 7-4 on two Kirstee Trees points and later at 9-5 on a Brooke Kaawa kill. WNCC kept fighting, leading 13-10 on two Kaawa service points. WNCC had a 16-14 lead when NJC shifted the momentum once again, grabbing a 17-16 lead.
Both teams were knotted at 20-20 before Antic put together another 3-point service run for a 24-20 lead and the Plainswomen went on to win 25-21.
Kaawa led the Cougars with 13 kills, five digs, and seven points. Syenna Masaki finished with nine digs, five points, and 20 set assists.
Bartley tallied seven kills, followed by Tuisamatatele with six kills, Kadara Marshall and Joise Maldonado with five kills. Maldonado also had four digs.
Also for the Cougars, Genesis Benitez had eight digs, Trees had six digs and four points, Lauren Shaul had four digs, and Jayme Commins had five assists.