After winning the Golden State Athletic Conference title last season and earning a ticket to the NAIA National Tournament, The Master’s University volleyball team begs the question: Is it harder to get to the top, or is it harder to stay on top?
The answer may be revealed this season.
“I don’t want to be on top and feel like I have to protect it as the king of the heap,” said coach Allan Vince. “I want to finish stronger. So whatever that looks like, I want to make sure my expectations are lined up with current events, but I want to make sure that my expectations are lined up with the progression that it’s going to take to win in the end.”
There’s certainly still room for progression for the Mustangs. They reached the NAIA tournament for the first time in five years last season, a massive accomplishment, but failed to advance out of pool play.
The experience at nationals is giving this year’s TMU team a little extra motivation.
“It still stings because we worked so hard for it and we had all of the excitement going into it and then we didn’t really show up when we got there,” said Madi Fay, a Hart alumna. “So I think we’re kind of using that like, sting, this year.”
The Mustangs have switched things up this season, opting for a 6-2 rotation, meaning that two setters will be on the court. Katie Emmerling, a transfer from Fresno City College, is one of those setters and Fay, who was strictly a hitter last season, is the other.
Emmerling currently leads the team with 138 assists and Fay is second with 78.
Fay also is second on the team in kills (50), blocks (13) and digs (44). Vince said that her style of play was a motivating factor in moving to a 6-2 rotation and it complements Emmerling, as well.
“I want her on the court for six rotations,” Vince said of Fay. “When it comes to consistency in setting, she’s going to need some more reps because her bread and butter is hitting and blocking.
“So if we can just get more consistent in the gym with our practices, I think running a 6-2 is going to be very effective also because Katie is a great hitter. She’s a good scorer, she’s a good option on all those things.”
Regan Tate, a senior, matches Fay’s fiery play on the court and currently leads the team in kills with 69. She ended last season second on the team with 723 total attacks and ranked third in kills with 255.
Fay and Emmerling will likely be setting her frequently this season.
“Regan is awesome as far as like, energy goes,” Fay said. “Whether she’s having a good game or an off game, she has consistent energy and it’s contagious. Everybody kind of thrives off of it. As far as play, a lot of times it’s like, as a setter, myself and for Katie, we know that if we’re in a trouble spot we can always shoot it out to Regan because she’s trustworthy.”
Senior middle blocker Jane Cisar is TMU’s leader in blocks with 29. Her 6-foot-1 frame makes jumping up for blocks look easy and reaching up for a tip look effortless.
At libero, senior McKenna Hafner returns and leads the team in digs with 88.
In terms of new faces on the team, Cisar said that Jessi Swenning is an up-and-coming freshman to watch for.
“She has tons of potential,” Cisar said. “Even how much she’s improved over the last two weeks in preseason shows that she’s going to be a phenomenal player in the years to come and she has the mindset and the heart to reach those goals.”
Master’s is 3-2 in its preleague slate thus far and will travel to Columbia, Missouri, for the Hampton Inn Classic, which spans from Aug. 30-Aug. 31.
When they return to the West Coast, the Mustangs begin GSAC play and their quest for another title at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.
“Our main goal for sure is to win GSAC again,” Cisar said. “So to do that again and then obviously from there go to nationals and, of course, you always want to do the best and win something like nationals, but I think our goal is more of a just do well at nationals and go further than we did last year.”