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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | October 19, 2016

DII Notebook: Winona State continues rise

  Winona State celebrates its victory against Augustana (S.D.) on Oct. 15.

Volleyball: Winona State continues to rise in the rankings

Seven teams from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference find themselves amongst the nation’s top 12. Right smack in the middle of them is Winona State. The Warriors have steadily climbed the rankings all season after entering at No. 21 in the preseason poll. They’ve reached their highest ranking of the season at No. 6 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll.

Sitting at 15-2, the Warriors went on the road to Marshall, Minnesota, to square off with conference rival and second-ranked Southwest Minnesota State on Oct. 8th. Despite dropping a five-set thriller, they were able to take away valuable lessons from their loss.

“Although we lost to Southwest Minnesota State, we learned a lot about ourselves as a team,” junior outside hitter Danielle Rampart said. “Southwest is ranked second in the country and we almost beat them! That just shows that we are capable of competing with the top ranked teams. Battling back against them and having a close fifth set shows how tough of a team we are. We could’ve just rolled over and gave them the match in three, but we fought back.”

This past week, they regrouped and rallied to beat two top ten teams in the country. They first defeated No. 9 Wayne State (Neb.) in four sets before beating then-No. 6 Augustana (S.D.) in five. 

“Beating Wayne and Augustana was a terrific experience,” Rampart said. “Coach always tells us that we need to get better each match. Beating these teams after a tough loss to Southwest shows us that we can forget about past games and just focus on the next task at hand. Every game is a new game and the next point is the only point that matters. Wins like these give us a little ‘swag’ that we need to take into every single match. We know that we can beat really good teams now, so we just have to remember that feeling and play like that each game.”

RELATED: Minnesota Duluth holds on to No. 1, SW Minnesota St. moves up to No. 2

This Warriors team is somewhat caught in-between a veteran squad and one of youthful exuberance. The team has just one senior, reigning NSIC Defensive Player of the Year Jamie Cairncross. There is also one lone freshman, as juniors and sophomores make up the rest of the roster. The same can be said for head coach Joe Getzin, who became head coach three years ago when Rampart and her fellow juniors were ready for their freshman campaign.

“It was a new program for Coach Getzin and most of the team,” Rampart said. “He set high expectations and ran intense practices from the beginning, which set a tone for how hard we needed to work. We had a very young team and most of the starting lineup had no experience playing in a collegiate game. As the season went on, we built great team chemistry and confidence in each other. Now that we are a bit older, we have the experience that it takes to be great. The coaches and the team all have the same goal, win championships. Now that we are a more mature team, we know how to hold each other accountable and push each other to be the best players that we can be.”

  Lauren Kudronowicz and McKenna Larsen attempt to make a block against Southwest Minnesota on Oct. 8.
That 2014 season saw the Warriors go 19-8, coming to an end in the NSIC Tournament in a first round sweep to Southwest Minnesota State. The next year the team improved in wins by one but lost in the NSIC Championship game to Concordia-St. Paul, yet again missing out in the postseason, in an NSIC that is top heavy in NCAA tournament teams.

This year has been different. They are putting together all of the positive aspects from seasons past and combining them with the lessons they have learned. Coming off of a three-set sweep Tuesday night against Upper Iowa, they once again prepare themselves for a matchup against a nationally-ranked NSIC rival this Friday when they head to Aberdeen to battle No. 13 Northern State.

“The reason why I feel that we are so successful this year is because every girl on the team is contributing in an important way,” Rampart said. “It feels great to be playing on a team that is working hard towards the same goal. Overall, it means a lot to be a part of this team right now. I never imagined getting to this point in my collegiate career would be this exciting and rewarding. I look forward to seeing what our team will accomplish from here.”

Field Hockey: “The Great 8” keep on rolling

Each week in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference is a daunting task for any team. When your program is involved with not one, but two Games of the Week, it becomes that much more difficult. That was the challenge that lay ahead of the Millersville Marauders this week. 

“Every game is a tough game,” Millersville senior midfielder Margo Thorwart said. “We are all honored and excited every time we put the uniforms on. Just as all teams we play, PSAC schools always play their best game against us. We only focus on one game at a time and for [Tuesday] that's Bloomsburg.”

Game one of their week pitted the No. 4 Marauders against No. 6 Bloomsburg. Trailing 1-0, Thorwart — the team leader in both assists and points — assisted on the game-tying goal. Millersville would rise triumphant in double overtime 2-1. 

Thorwart is part of a group of eight seniors who were members of the 2014 National Championship squad. The “Great Eight”, as head coach Shelly Behrens has coined them, brought Millersville its program’s first title, and it was obviously an experience that Thorwart will never forget.

“Winning the national championship as a sophomore was a great experience,” Thorwart said. “To complete the mission we set for ourselves was so fulfilling. It was exciting and one of the best experiences most of us have ever had. Those are the memories we as competitors live for and will never forget.”

RELATED: St. Anselm on the move into top 3 of coaches poll

Forward Olivia Hershey — who scored the game-winning goal in their 1-0 championship victory over LIU Post — is one of those seniors. She has continued that trend this season leading the Marauders with three game-winning goals. Goalkeeper Samantha Rumler was also on that team. She bided her time behind All-America Lauren Sotzin, and is now second in the nation in goals against average with a microscopic 0.44 mark. 

This is what they have come to expect of each other each, and every season. Although each season loses a few key players and welcomes a few new faces, this year’s senior class tasted victory early on and have pressed hard to get back there once again.

“It showed us first hand how to get the job done,” Thorwart said of winning the championship. “It left our class hungry for more and left a taste in the back of our throats for wanting to win a national championship every year. However, each year a new team is formed and every new team has a new mission and goals.”

  No. 4 Millersville faces off with No. 6 Bloomsburg this weekend.
The Marauders’ tough week continues when they hit the road for a Friday matchup against No. 9 Kutztown. They then have five days of rest before they travel to No. 10 West Chester. The road to the NCAA postseason seemingly never ends in the PSAC, but Thorwart and her teammates wouldn’t have it any other way.

"'The Great Eight'", as coach says, has been through so many ups and downs,” Thorwart said. “We wouldn't trade our experiences, teammates, or coaches for anything in the world. There's just something about being a Millersville University field hockey girl, putting that jersey on and playing on the field for all of the MUFH girls that have played before you. Our class along with the team, share a special bond that only MUFH players and coaches can understand. We play for the girl on the right of you and the girl on the left of you.”

Soccer: Rollins continues their way back to the postseason

Two seasons ago, Rollins found itself on the cusp of program history. Having never been past the third round in the NCAA championships, they made it all the way to the title game. Their magical season would come to an end at the hands of the current three-time reigning champion Grand Valley State Lakers.

2015 started off strong, with Rollins reaching the top ranking in the nation early in the season. They would finish the season 10-6, however, not reaching the NCAA postseason for the first time under head coach Alicia Schuck’s tenure.

“With so much parity in our conference, consistent repeated success is a challenge,” Schuck said. “We found out last year that the difference between a great season and one that comes up short is minuscule. It takes a lot of key ingredients to all come together at the right time to have the winning recipe.”

Schuck is one of the greatest soccer players in Rollins history. She is the all-time leader in goals scored, as well as a Tars Hall of Famer. She has been able to see the ups and downs of a challenging season now on both sides of the game. All of her experiences have now made her one of the greatest head coaches in Rollins history, posting a 72-18-4 record since taking over in 2011, including a 14-3-2, South Region Coach of the Year rookie campaign.

  Defender Madison Taylor takes the ball upfield during a match.
“Coaching at my alma mater is a dream come true and if we have an opportunity to win any more championships — league, tournament or national — I will be ecstatic,” Schuck said. “More than anything, I want to give each of these girls an amazing experience they will have for the rest of their lives. Getting a taste of the final four tournament and all that goes with it is something I hope to be able to bring to another group of players.” 

She has Rollins back on track this season, as they currently sit atop the Sunshine State Conference. The roster is very heavy in senior presence, including Emma Bloom and Paxton Sickler, who find themselves in the top ten goals scorers in the SSC, along with sophomore Kathryn O’Brien. That means there is a lot of postseason experience on this squad.

“This season our seniors have been motivated by two extraordinary experiences that they lived: a NCAA finals season and a season where we did not qualify for the NCAAs,” Schuck said. “The turn of events has created a hunger and drive to perform at their best day in and day out. The environment that we create in training and in games has been special this season, the seniors constantly impress me.

RELATED: West Chester hops two spots to No. 3

“This group is carrying a legacy that has been building for 20 years, and with their taste of success, and bitterness of falling short last year, they have matured and unified even more to help raise the level of every member of our team.”

Last week, they played to a draw with then-No. 20 Nova Southeastern, who are also undefeated atop the SSC with Rollins. Despite the tie, the Tars find themselves at No. 6 in the nation in this week’s NSCAA Coaches Poll behind an impressive 8-1-2 record. With just three games left, including Wednesday night’s road match with Lynn, the Tars are back on the brink of yet another SSC title run and then, once again, they hope for a return to the NCAA postseason. 

But they know in order to get back there, they have to learn each and every week, and more importantly, trust the process.

“In comparison to previous years, we have simplified our goals, clarified our core values, enhanced our leadership, and improved our overall team culture,” Schuck said. “We’ve been focusing on the process much more than results and the lessons that each game we have played has taught us. I believe the pressure of coming off of that great season distracted us last year and it was a good lesson for our team. We learned to focus on us, and work on what we can control. We haven't yet and won't look at rankings until the end of the season when all is said and done.”