Riding a four-match win streak into postseason play, Taylor volleyball suffered a loss to Mount Vernon Nazarene University in the first round of the Crossroads League Tournament.
Taylor closed the season with a 21-16 record, which marked the 32nd straight season with a .500 or better record for Trojan volleyball.
Taylor won the first set 26-24 after a kill by junior Amanda Adams and a service ace by senior Samantha Korn broke the 24-24 tie. Mount Vernon took the next two sets 25-14 and 25-19, forcing an elimination set for Taylor.
Facing the end of their season down two sets to one, Taylor found a way to build a 20-19 lead. After senior Julia Pomerenke’s kill, freshman Kacy Bragg gained service and kept it for the rest of the set, leading Taylor to a 25-19 win in the fourth set, forcing a crucial fifth set.
After Taylor fell behind 0-3 early in the final set, they managed to get the set back to 3-3. As the set played on, every rally was magnified. Debatable calls down the stretch provided an even more competitive atmosphere.
With the season on the line, a kill from sophomore Ryan Czerniak brought the gap to 11-14, but it wasn’t enough, as Mount Vernon won the next point and the match.
“What was different in the final set was our own errors,” Junior Grace Isaacs said. “When a set only goes to 15 they matter a lot more. We just had unforced errors, like serving errors or hitting it out of bounds.”
Isaacs contributed well with 15 kills on the day.
With their victory, Mount Vernon avenged a loss on Nov. 1, when Taylor won in five sets.
“We were very prepared coming in,” Head Coach Erin Luthy said. “We just made some more hitting errors on our end.”
The loss to Mount Vernon marked the end of three seniors’ careers at Taylor. Korn, Pomerenke and Abby DeSimpelare all put together strong performances in both their final game and season.
“They’re a special part of our program,” Luthy said of the seniors. “This is my fourth year here and these three have gone through all four years with me. They did an amazing job both on the court and off the court.”
Pomerenke reached the 300 kill total this season for the first time, finishing with 302. She also finished with 107 blocks on the season — her second straight season eclipsing the 100 block mark
DeSimpelare had her best collegiate season, putting together career-highs with 552 assists, 313 digs and 28 service aces while playing in every match this season for the Trojans.
Korn, an NAIA All-American honorable mention last season, had 28 digs on the day, which cemented the veteran libero as the 11th player in Taylor history to record 1,800 digs in a career.
However, Korn said she will remember her time on the volleyball team for the community more than any award or statistic.
“(Taylor volleyball) is so special in the fact that it’s Christ-centered,” Korn said. “Freshman (year) to now, I’m a completely different person and I think volleyball had a lot to do with it. The relationships are something I will carry more and remember more than any other thing.”
Even though the season ended in a heartbreaking way, it was filled with positives and signature moments, as the 21 wins were the most since 2014.
Isaacs, Korn and Luthy all mentioned the upset over a ranked Saint Francis as one of their favorite parts of the season.
“Beating Saint Francis was really really fun,” Isaacs said. “People from the crowd after the game said that was the best game they had ever been to.”
The Trojans protected home court this season and finished with an 8-2 record on the season inside Odle Arena.
“We loved the home-court advantage,” Korn said. “We really took advantage of that.”
With a 21-win 2019 season in the books, and an experienced group returning next season, Taylor volleyball will head into the offseason and look forward to the 2020 season next fall.