ROCHESTER - When Central Lakes College volleyball coach Jane Peterson greeted her players for the first time this season she didn't see national championship written on their faces.
"We had some good players," Peterson said, "but to say I was thinking national championship, not at all."
It turned out that the Raiders' coach was wrong.
Central Lakes won the national Division III junior college volleyball championship Saturday, defeating Minnesota rival and the nation's top-ranked team Ridgewater of Willmar 29-31, 30-22, 31-29, 31-29 in the title match at Rochester Community and Technical College.
CLC's Lisa Kurtz was named the tournament MVP.
The Raiders had lost to Ridgewater 3-2 in the state finals Oct. 28 in their only other meeting this season.
"I'll have to admit, I was wrong about this team," said Peterson, who also coached Central Lakes to national titles in 2000 and 2001. "Even coming into this tournament I wasn't sure we had what it takes. But we arrived.
"It started with our win over Brookhaven (Texas) on Friday (in the last match of pool play) and carried over into the semifinals and finals. We finally had confidence and the mental toughness it takes, something we were lacking much of the season."
The win over Ridgewater was especially sweet, according to Peterson, since the Warriors had beaten Central Lakes for the state championship.
"We'll trade a state title for a national title anytime, if that's what it takes," Peterson said.
With the championship came other honors for the Raiders. Peterson was named national Division III coach of the year, Lisa Kurtz was picked as the tournament's most valuable player and Rachel Voeltz, Krista Meyer and Erin Jugasek were selected to the all-tournament team.
It was a storybook ending to the season for Central Lakes, which had only nine players on its roster and was so shorthanded that one player had to keep statistics on the bench between playing appearances.
Central Lakes College freshman outside hitter Shayna Foote spiked the ball during Saturday's NJCAA Division III national championship match in Rochester. Foote contributed eight kills and 14 digs as the Raiders defeated Ridgewater for the title. John Pedersen
"The good thing about that is that everybody knew what their role was," Peterson said. "With only three subs most of the players knew they had to gut it out no matter what."
And gut it out they did.
"The Fine Nine," as they should be called, played tough when the going got tough in the championship match. Three of the four games went down to the wire, with the Raiders coming from behind at the end to win the last two and capture the title, after finishing third in the national tournament four straight years.
"We were stick of finishing third," said sophomore Jill Wizik.
The Raiders, who finished the season with a 34-7 record, didn't get off to the start they wanted against Ridgewater. They opened a 20-12 lead in the first game and were still in front 26-21 when Ridgewater rallied to tie the score at 29 and then pulled out the win after taking a 30-29 lead on a controversial line call.
"After being ahead and then losing, that motivated us even more," said Central Lakes sophomore middle hitter Heather Feldewerd.
The second game was close until a 9-0 run by the Raiders turned a 20-19 deficit into a 28-20 lead. Wizik was the server on all nine of those points, which included back-to-back service aces.
The third and fourth games were almost carbon copies of each other. The third was tied at 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 28 before Ridgewater edged ahead 29-28, but a kill by Kurtz and two out of bounds hits by the Warriors gave Central Lakes the win.
The fourth game was tied at 24, 25, 26, 27 and 29 before the Raiders scored the last two points, including the clincher on a kill by Voeltz.
Then the celebration began for Central Lakes, which was ranked second in the nation heading into the tournament.
The statistics told the story. Wizik had 27 set assists, four service aces and digs, Voeltz had eight kills, Feldewerd had 15 kills and three service aces,
Kurtz had 10 kills, 25 set assists and 25 digs, Shayna Foote had eight kills and 14 digs, Erin Jugasek had nine kills, Heather Kapinos had 20 digs and Krista Meyer had 17 kills and 22 digs.
CLC 3, Edison (Ohio) 1
The Raiders advanced to the championship match with a 30-27, 30-23, 20-30, 30-11 semifinal win over Edison Community College of Piqua, Ohio.
Ridgewater advanced with a 20-30, 30-22, 30-24, 30-26 victory over Brookhaven College of Farmers Branch, Texas. Brookhaven went on to beat Edison 30-27. 30-21, 30-25, 30-26 for third place.
BOB BROWN is former sports editor of the Rochester Post Bulletin.
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