By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
When asked Monday what gave her confidence that The Master’s University women’s volleyball team could compete for a national title in the coming weeks, sophomore Madi Fay pointed to two days on the calendar.
On Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, the Mustangs went to Columbia, Missouri, for the Hampton Inn Classic and competed against some of the NAIA’s best.
Master’s beat Columbia College in four sets and pushed defending national champion Lindsey Wilson to five. Those squads are the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds, respectively, in the NAIA National Tournament, which revealed its 44-team field Monday.
Master’s (29-5) will make its first appearance at nationals since 2013 as the No. 12 seed. Pool play opens Nov. 27 in Sioux City, Iowa.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen these teams,” said Fay, a Hart High graduate who ranks second on TMU in kills (265). “We’ve played them, we’re familiar with them, we competed with them. We were at that level. It makes it feel more possible. It will be a good challenge for us.”
The Mustangs also faced No. 2 seed Park University and No. 4 Missouri Baptist at that Labor Day tournament, falling to both in three sets. But Master’s has grown considerably since then, facing and overcoming adversity.
Since Oct. 27, each match has held special significance as the Mustangs pursued the first GSAC regular season title in program history, and TMU rose to the challenge more often than not.
After winning the regular season crown, the Mustangs beat No. 15 Westmont College on Saturday night in the conference title game, securing an automatic bid to nationals and taking down the Warriors, a perennial power, for the second time this season. TMU’s 29 wins are its most since 1996 when it won 31 under coach Dean Conk.
Conk remains the winningest coach in program history. Second is current head coach Allan Vince, who now has 99 wins under his belt over five seasons with the Mustangs.
Master’s is hoping to get him to 100 in Sioux City, Iowa.
To make that a reality, the Mustangs will have to stay sharp over the next two weeks. The plan?
“Tip-recovery defense, blocking with consistency and discipline, with things like that I’m going to try to make it almost like a boot camp in practice,” Vince said, “so that when the girls get to nationals, we’ve worked so hard at these weaknesses that they’ll want to make sure they apply the right techniques.”
Said Fay, “It’s going to be important that in practice we don’t plateau or take it easy because we know we have all this time or because we’re thinking, ‘We just won, so it’s fine.’ We have to keep that same energy, that same intensity.”
Men’s, women’s basketball play at TMU this week
The Master’s University men’s basketball team will play for the first time in more than a week Tuesday when it hosts Bethesda University at TMU at 7 p.m.
The Mustangs, ranked No. 1 in the NAIA, are 1-1 on the season, having lost to No. 2 LSU Alexandria on Nov. 1 and having beaten No. 7 LSU Shreveport the following day.
Master’s will also play at home on Saturday night at 7 against the University of Saint Katherine.
TMU women’s basketball, ranked 14th nationally, will play its home opener Friday at 7 p.m. The Mustangs (2-1) recently returned from a swing through Montana where they beat Montana Tech and No. 7 Carroll College, while falling to No. 18 University of Providence.
TMU freshman Stephanie Soares, a 6-foot-6 center, blocked a school-record 10 shots in her collegiate debut against Montana Tech on Nov. 6, while scoring 17 points and pulling down seven rebounds.
General admission at TMU is $8. Students (from high schools and colleges other than Master’s) are $3.
For more info on TMU Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com or follow us on Twitter and Instagram: @tmuathletics.