NORFOLK, Neb. – For the third consecutive year, the Northeast Community College women's volleyball team ended its season at the NJCAA DII National Tournament in Charleston, W.V., a place where many teams hope to be at, but only a select few make it.
For head coach Amanda Schultze and the Hawks, reaching the national tournament has been a prominent step in the right direction after finishing the season with more than 20 wins and being named Region XI-B champions.
"I believe one of our biggest keys to victory this season was our group of sophomores," Schultze said. "They were all great leaders and were consistent throughout the entire season. They did a great job at leading our freshmen and showing them what our program is all about, whether it was on the court or in the classroom."
The sophomore class was highlighted by dominate outside hitter Kalli Brester (Howells, Neb.) and setter Savannah Nelson (Wakefield, Neb.), who both were named First Team All-Region XI-B, while Nelson was named First Team All-Conference.
Brester played in all 36 matches, tallying 403 kills and 509 digs, ranking in the top-55 in both categories among all NJCAA DII players. She had her best match in a Hawks uniform in a five-set thriller over North Dakota State College of Science, recording 24 kills and 27 digs.
Nelson paved the way for the Hawks offense, finishing the season with 1,251 assists, good for 15th-place at the NJCAA DII level. She also had 313 digs and 43 blocks her sophomore season. In her career at Northeast, she has tallied 2,497 assists and 685 digs.
On the defensive end, Delaney Belt (Shelby, Neb.) was a strong force night in and night out for the Hawks. She finished her sophomore career with 458 digs, putting her in the top-80 among all players. As a Hawk, Belt has recorded 612 digs, while tallying a season-high 35 digs against Fort Scott Community College on Oct. 6.
At the libero position, Gabriela Barbosa (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) finished in the top-35 in the digs category with 596. In her two-year career at Northeast, she tallied 734 digs in 60 matches.
"The sophomores were key to this team's success," Schultze added. "We had a couple sophomores in some key roles at the libero and setter position and only one in an attacker position. This group of sophomores led our freshmen and trusted them to put the ball away and score points."
Local standout Hannah Heppner (Stanton, Neb.) was a dominant force at the net in her first year with Northeast. In 36 matches, she tallied 328 kills and 89 total blocks. She also had a .324 hitting percentage, putting her in the top-35 nationally.
Elley Beaver (Columbus, Neb.) also shined throughout the season, adding 225 kills, 331 digs and 44 blocks. Her best outing was a 17-kill performance against Sheridan Community College on Sept. 15.
Fellow freshmen Caitlin Orton (Mills, Neb.) and Megan Wehrbein (Lewiston, Neb.) gave the Hawks a solid one-two punch at the net. Orton finished with 186 kills, 152 digs and 71 total blocks, while Wehrbein had 140 kills and 75 digs.
"I am looking forward to having an experienced group next year," Schultze said. "All of the freshmen received playing time this year and know how the program works. They will be great leaders and will now know what it takes to reach their goals."
The Hawks will have a much needed break before returning to campus to gear up for next season.
"There is always room for improvement," Schultze mentioned. "Spring ball is one of my favorite things as a coach. We get to spend more time working with the athletes and breaking down drills and fundamentals. Spring season is a time when everyone gets better and there is a lot less pressure from us coaches. Our freshmen will start to feel like sophomores and become more confident in themselves and their play."
Even though the season has just ended, it won't be long until Hawks fans will fill the bleachers to cheer on Schultze and her new squad next fall.
"Overall, our success came from the buy-in from the entire team," Schultze said. "They trusted the process as well as each other and they worked hard and stayed focused on their goals, but most of all, they had fun."
For all news related to Northeast Community College athletics, visit northeasthawks.com for complete coverage. Fans can also follow the Hawks on Twitter @NortheastHawks for game-day coverage.