Though it didn’t end with the ultimate prize -- a national championship -- the Carroll College Saints volleyball team’s season ended in perhaps the next best way -- sending three seniors out with a win and a few firsts in program history.
The Saints took down College of Ozarks to conclude its run at the NAIA national tournament in group play, capping off a 24-8 season highlighted by the Saints’ outright conference championship, conference tournament title and automatic bid to the NAIA tournament.
During a post-game video shot by Carroll College’s athletic department, coach Moe Boyle and Carroll seniors Jonni Dorr, Natalie Kassa and Paige Montgomery recapped their season and projected the Saints’ future.
The Independent Record did not travel to the national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
“We came out and played our game,” Boyle said. “I really believe throughout the year we’ve got better in a lot of areas. And they’ve gotten better as a team. And they’ve stuck together through thick and thin. They put it all together today and it’s a nice way to end a great season.”
Carroll had dropped its first two matches against Doane, 3-0, and Viterbo, 3-1, matches in which the Saints admittedly didn’t show their best.
“I have no regrets,” Montgomery said. “Sure, it might have been a little tough not winning those first two matches. Just being here is a huge accomplishment in itself. I’m very proud of our team and how we did it to get here.”
Boyle repeated that mindset before the tournament, through it and afterward: The Saints felt accomplished by making NAIA national tournament.
“Not making it out of pool play at the national tournament doesn’t take away from the year we had,” Boyle said. “These girls have accomplished a tremendous amount of success. They’ve done a lot of things both on and off the court. From way back in August through September and in California and had one-point matches and I think that was the apex of what they thought they could do and we just kept getting better.”
Jonni Dorr had a “bittersweet” feeling after the Saints finally notched a win in their last match at nationals.
“Coming into this week, all I could think about was I’m happy to be here even if we lose all these games as long as we play our hearts out then I’ll be happy,” Dorr said. “That’s how we ended. We played our hearts out and we played Carroll volleyball for the first time this week. It was a great way to end.”
“We’re just really thankful we ended our season in Iowa.”
Dorr said with her, Montgomery and Kassa gone, she doesn’t anticipate the Saints to take a step back. She expects them to “rally.”
“I‘m excited to see who steps up and takes on those leadership roles and takes this team to leadership roles. I’m really excited to watch them next year.”
“There’s a lot of good pieces coming back and a lot at the next level,” Boyle said. “It’s going to be tough to replace those three seniors. I don’t think you replace them. You get new people on board who provide a different aspect. It’s going to be interesting to see who is able to step up and take care of those leadership responsibilities because these three seniors have done a great job.”
As far as life beyond Carroll volleyball, Dorr said she’ll keep in touch with teammates and give them a hard time about their conditioning.
“I don’t know,” Dorr said. “It’s going to be really, really weird not running all summer for a purpose and coming back together with a group of girls next year.”
Montgomery said something will be missing after volleyball.
“There’s going to be some emptiness in my heart, you know,” she said. “We’ve been together for so long. Won’t be running the mile ever again, which is a relief. I’ll definitely miss being with my teammates.”
Montgomery anticipated meeting up with her fellow senior class in Spokane down the road, and didn’t rule out the possibility of one day coaching with Dorr and/or Kassa.
Kassa said the end of the season and playing in her last game hadn’t set in at the tournament’s venue. “It doesn’t’ feel real yet,” she said.
“I think it’s been an awesome, awesome year,” Kassa said. “We met the majority of the goals we planned on. Obviously the first two games of nationals didn’t go as planned. Marija (Nicksic) brought up a good point in the locker room. She said we’re a very goal-oriented team. We made goals all through preseason and then regular season. All those goals led us to here. The end goal was to make it to nationals. We got here and we were like, ‘Sweet. Awesome.’ But then we realized we still gotta keep playing. We made some goals here at nationals and then that’s when we started to play better.”
All three seniors expected the Saints to be great again next year. Part of that may be due to them.
“I owe a lot of credit to those three seniors for the leadership they provided,” Boyle said. “The way that the girls stuck together was really a testament to who they were and their leadership they have to that team. Accepted everybody for who they were. I think that whoever is able to step up into those leadership roles is going to be able to carry that on. That’s a huge part of female athletics and volleyball in particular where you keep everybody involved. These seniors certainly did that. We’re hoping somebody can carry that through.”