Lady Brave spikers garner KCAC tourney title

By The Herald Staff

The No. 19-ranked Ottawa University women's volleyball team is back on the national stage.

For the sixth time in seven seasons under coach Melissa Blessington, the Lady Braves will play in the NAIA National Tournament.

Ottawa captured the program's ninth KCAC Tournament championship Friday with a 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 25-13, 20-25, 15-13) victory over the University of Saint Mary in the title match. Ottawa advanced to the title match with a 3-0 semifinal win over Bethany.

Ottawa (30-7) will play a first-round game this weekend. There will be 48 teams in the national tourney field with 24 advancing to the national site.

Saint Mary gave Ottawa all it could handle in the title match. Ottawa led 21-17 in the first set only to see the Spires score seven straight points.

Ottawa controlled the next two sets to take a 2-1 lead only to see Saint Mary battle back to win the fourth set. The fifth set saw Ottawa get out to a 5-1 lead. Saint Mary rallied within 10-9 and 14-13.

Ottawa finished the match with 65 kills, a .224 attacking percentage 61 assists, 16 service aces, 84 digs, and nine team blocks.

Katelyn Elstun finished with 14 kills and three blocks. Caitlyn Cox had 13 kills and a .313 attacking percentage. Megan Wall finished with 11 kills and Ryleigh Burdick had 10 kills and 13 digs for a double-double.

KCAC Honors Coaches, Players

Ottawa, the regular-season and tournament conference champs, had five players and two coaches earn all-conference honors.

Blessington, Ottawa head coach, earned her fourth KCAC Coach of the Year award and Adriana Skipper was named KCAC Assistant Coach of the Year.

Blessington led the Braves to four KCAC regular season championships, five KCAC Tournament championships, six NAIA National Tournament appearances, and four NAIA Final Site appearances in seven seasons.

Skipper helped coach Ottawa to three KCAC Tournament Championships, three NAIA National Tournament Appearances, and one KCAC regular season championship. She has coached 16 All-KCAC performers.

Ayona Tharps, a senior right side hitter, was named first team All-KCAC for the third straight season. She has 397 kills, a .258 attacking percentage, 104 blocks, and 99 digs. Tharps was twice named KCAC Attacker of the Week. She is ranked 11th in the NAIA in total kills (394) and 12th in total blocks (104).

Burdick, a senior outside hitter, earned first team All-KCAC for the second straight season. She has 264 kills, a .223 attacking percentage, 37 blocks, and 167 digs.

Elstun, a sophomore outside hitter, was selected first team All-KCAC in her first season in an OU uniform. She had 286 kills, a .232 attacking percentage, 13 assists, nine service aces, 37 blocks, and 243 digs.

Cox, senior middle blocker and right side hitter, was named second team All-KCAC. She has 240 kills, a .265 attacking percentage, eight assists, 98 blocks, and 94 digs. Cox is ranked 19th in the NAIA in total blocks (98).

Zari Montgomery, a sophomore setter, earned third team All-KCAC honors. As one of the setters in OU's 5-2 offense, Montgomery compiled 704 assists and is averaging 5.87 assists per set. Montgomery has 36 service aces, and 245 digs. She is ranked 39th in the NAIA in total assists (704).