When the 2015 season ended, Pfeiffer (N.C.) forward Nathan Regis finished with 32 goals, the most in NCAA Division II. It helped him earn NSCAA National Player of the Year.
But far more important to Regis was Pfeiffer winning its first-ever NCAA Division II national championship, beating Cal Poly Pomona 4-0 in the title match.
Regis is back and so are all the other starters as the Falcons begin their title defense in 2016.
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“He is an exceptional young athlete, an exceptional young man,” Pfeiffer coach Bob Reasso said. “He is strong. He is powerful. He is good in the air and good on the ground. He brings other people into the game.
“He is a very humble young man. Another characteristic of the team is all of our top players are humble. Chemistry is another reason we are a good team. Nathan is the most humble guy on the team and that helps the team grow.”
In the season opener on Thursday, Regis showed his unselfish trait in Pfeiffer’s 4-1 victory over Lander. Regis had two assists in the victory.
Regis credits the coaching staff and the hard work of all his teammates for the Falcons’ success.
“The coaching staff are hard workers,” Regis said. “We just do everything they tell us to do. The fitness aspect is what really helps in terms of getting ready for the season.”
Playing with so many other talented players also helps.
“Even if we make a minor mistake, it still looks like a successful play because we work so hard for each other,” Regis said. “We always try to get better because it is never good enough.”
Senior Santi Moar, a first team All-Conference player, scored two goals in the win against Lander and junior Jaime Siaj had a goal and an assist.
“The guys came out very determined,” Reasso said. “Lander is a very a good team. They have an excellent young coach. We got two goals early.
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“I think what hurt us the most is we scored early in the second half and it got to three-nil and we relaxed and Lander raised its level.”
With everybody back from last year’s championship team, the expectations are high at Pfeiffer. Both Reasso and Regis agreed that it does the team no good to look back.
“It will benefit us more to forget the past and see ourselves as just another regular competitor and a new road as we go along,” Regis said. “If we continue to think we are champions, we will become complacent and not perform to the best of our ability.”
Pfeiffer finished last season 25-0. With the win on Thursday, the Falcons have won 26 straight matches.
“A lot of people on the outside like to talk about the winning streak,” Reasso said. “We don’t really talk about it unless somebody ask us. We really concern ourselves with our next practice session, our next game. That is the only way to compete on the collegiate level because the games come so fast. You have to stay focused on your next game.
“You can look at it as pressure. We are looking at it as a great thing to have. We are very fortunate to have great kids and they really enjoy training every day. We are looking at it as an opportunity and another year to spend together as a whole group.”
Wheeling Jesuit volleyball begins title defense
Wheeling Jesuit volleyball coach Christy Benner wants her players to face good competition early in the season, especially when she has a talented, veteran group like the one last season and this season.
The Cardinals are coming off their first-ever NCAA Division II national championship and return six seniors off that team.
Benner had every reason to be excited when the Cardinals left Wheeling, West Virginia, at midweek to play four matches in the West Florida Tournament over the weekend. Each team presented a different problem for Wheeling Jesuit, which enters the season ranked No. 2 in the AVCA coaches poll.
“One of our very good friends in coaching just got the job at Carson-Newman,” Benner said Thursday evening. “We play them first. The second team we play is Findlay. They are the last team to beat us. They are from Ohio. We have kids from Ohio. It is always kind of a regional rivalry.
“Our third match is against Central Missouri who is a perennial powerhouse and always top 10, and we have never faced them. That will be interesting. And then to come back and play West Florida, who we have played two or three times and we have never beaten.”
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The Cardinals answered each one with a win, beating Carson-Newman 3-1, Findlay 3-0, No. 9 Central Missouri 3-2 and No. 23 West Florida 3-0.
Wheeling Jesuit knows well how facing tough competition early in the season sets a tone for later in the year. A year ago, Wheeling Jesuit played its first tournament at Tampa and went 2-2, losing 3-0 to then-No. 1 Tampa and No. 4 Minnesota Duluth 3-1.
The Cardinals only lost two more matches the rest of the season and finished 39-4.
“I really believe in playing the toughest out of conference and out of region schedule as possible,” Benner said. “Obviously, you have to get some confidence early for your young kids.
“I think it helps down the road because if you play the best, you have seen the best. You can learn from it. If you are able to win a couple of matches early, that is even better.”
As the defending national champions, Wheeling Jesuit couldn’t have had a better start to its season. Senior Haley Kindall was selected MVP of the tournament and setter Andrea Thobe made the All-Tournament team.
“We have a veteran team so I expect a lot out of them,” Benner said. “Andrea Thobe and Haley Kindall have been the heartbeat of our team. They have great connection. They are our leaders. They do a lot for the program. Kayce Krucki is very solid and one of smartest kids, and one of the highest volleyball IQ I have been around.
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“Emma Schleucher was an All-American two years ago. She does a tremendous job and gives us a different look on the right side because she is quick. She can hit and jump and hit any set across the net anywhere. And we have Katie Campbell, a third middle and Sam Obringer who is our first defensive specialist.”
Winning the national title was one of those pinch-me moments for the volleyball program so the team enjoyed it for a while.
“For a small community and a small school on the east side of the country, we looked at each other, my coaching staff and my husband, ‘Did we just do that?’
“We celebrated a long time. We knew the time to get busy. We worked hard last spring. But it has been great.”
Now the focus is on 2016. A new season brings new challenges, especially for a defending champion. The Cardinals look forward to the new obstacles that might come their way.
“I think they are really going to enjoy this season,” Benner said of her players. “I know they are really excited. We have been fortunate to be successful for a while in our region so we feel in our region, we have kind of been the hunted. When we go out of region, we feel like we are hunting the others.
“Maybe this season people are thinking were they a fluke and are they going to be there? I know we are going to get everybody’s best. I am just focused on keeping our team doing what we always do. We want to play solid, play fast, play clean and limit our errors and go out and have a lot of fun.”
What to watch results
- West Georgia, ranked No. 2, started its season with 23-3 victory at home against No. 22 Catawba on Saturday.
Catawba won time of possession, holding the ball 14 more minutes than West Georgia, but West Georgia had 105 yards more in total offense.
The Wolves used the more balanced offensive attack to take a 13-0 lead into halftime. Catawba’s only points came in the third quarter.
Coach Will Hall improved his record to 50-15 in his fifth season at West Georgia.
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- No 17 Tuskegee went on the road and beat Clark Atlanta 36-13.
Tuskegee shutout Clark Atlanta in the second half and scored 14 points to secure a 23-point victory.
Tuskegee junior linebacker Osband Thompson led the Golden Tigers defensively, recording 16 tackles, three for losses.
Football upset of the week
Southwest Minnesota State pulled off a 42-38 come-from-behind home victory over No. 19 Minnesota Duluth on Thursday.
The Mustangs trailed 35-28 entering the final quarter. They scored the game-winning touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Blake Gimbel to Ty Steffensen with 23 seconds left for the dramatic win.
Southwest Minnesota actually trailed 38-28 with less than 4 minutes left and scored two touchdowns in 3 minutes, 11 seconds.
This was the first time Southwest Minnesota has beaten a NCAA Division II top 25 team and the first victory over Minnesota Duluth since 1999.
Gimbel threw five touchdowns and passed for 397 yards.