Volleyball recap: What’s next for the Tommies?

By , Sports Editor  |  Sunday, November 18, 2012 10:10 PM

The 2012 St. Thomas volleyball season added several impressive feats to an already successful program. With its first national title under its belt, let’s look back at what made this fall the best season yet.

Team accomplishments

St. Thomas won its first NCAA Division III national championship, defeating 2010 national champion Calvin (Mich.) Saturday in a five-set thriller. Calvin had spent most of the season on top of the national rankings, coming into the game with a 33-2 record and playing in front of what essentially amounted to a home game for the Knights. After all, Holland, Mich., is only 37 miles away from Calvin’s campus. An NCAA championship record 3,517 fans saw the Tommies come storming back from what seemed to be an insurmountable 2-0 Knight lead. Undeterred, the Tommies fought back, taking sets three, four and five to clinch the team’s first-ever volleyball national championship.

Although the team had been to the national quarterfinals the last two seasons, those teams could not make it past the first round. This year proved different as the Tommies only dropped two games in their three matches en route to the national title. St. Thomas is the first MIAC program to win the volleyball title.

The win capped a 40-1 season; the only blemish coming all the way back on Sept. 7, to then top-10 Emory in a five-set loss. The 40-1 record is an all-time best for the MIAC conference. The Tommies won 35 successive matches after that loss. Not only that, St. Thomas went 8-0 over a 17-day stretch to earn the title. The Tommies were the only one-loss team entering the national quarterfinals.

St. Thomas also went 11-0 in conference play this season.

Individual accomplishments

Outside hitter Jill Greenfield was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The sophomore had an impressive season, highlighted by her .184 hitting percentage and team-leading 968 total attacks.

Middle blocker Kelly Foley, was named to the all-region team following the Tommies’ advancement to the national quarterfinals. Foley finished the season with a team-leading 440 kills and .370 hitting percentage. Last year, the decorated sophomore won MIAC and national Freshman of the Year honors.

For her academic work off the court, defensive specialist Kia Johnson received the NCAA’s Elite 89 award for the second year in a row. The award is given to the player with the top GPA of the tournament’s 136 players. Johnson is a biology student with a 3.961 GPA.

Along with the standout players, coach Thanh Pham was named MIAC Coach of the Year for the fourth time. Pham carries a 280-63 record with his team, highlighted by seven conference championships and eight NCAA playoff appearances in ten seasons. Under Pham, the Tommies are 99-11 in conference play and in six of his seasons, have boasted the MIAC’s Player of the Year.

What’s next?

St. Thomas will graduate three players this spring: Johnson, defensive specialist Kaiti Wachter and middle blocker Ali Wahlin. These seniors have been part of a 126-20 four-year record during their time with the team.

While the Tommies are losing two starters in Johnson and Wachter, the team has the youthful talent to keep the strong play alive moving into next season. Opposite hitter Sara Atkinson, middle blocker Mackenzie Piechowski, outside hitter Nicole Potts and setter Katie Maher along with Greenfield and Foley will be all return as key players for the Tommies.

As far as the defensive specialist position goes, McKenna Reagan might be the one the team looks to in 2013. The junior made a third set appearance in the national championship match, something Pham said played a key role in the Tommies’ victory. Reagan’s digs and saves were instrumental in setting up kills for Foley and Greenfield; each had 14.

After winning the MIAC championship six successive years, the Tommies will look to their returners for an unprecedented seventh consecutive title in 2013.

Briggs LeSavage contributed to this article. Ross Schreck can be reached at schr8250@stthomas.edu.

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