A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Don Owen: Home winning streak halted, but Thomas More seniors still have shot at fantastic finish

Remember your days as a college student? The memories range from sour to sweet for most of us. Good days. Bad days. Great nights. Terrible mornings. Hectic schedules. Dreading the future.

Welcome to life as a college student, when nothing is ever perfect.

The Thomas More volleyball program’s senior class is fully aware of the wide range of emotions. They lost their starting setter (Jenna Fessler) in 2016 due to complications from the West Nile virus, then watched her recover and eventually become an inspirational figure on a national stage. Those seniors have enjoyed plenty of great times (two conference titles at the NCAA Division III level) and engineered an eye-opening debut in the NAIA this season, reaching the 20-win plateau for the eighth consecutive year.

Thomas More’s Jenna Mummert (left) attempts an attack against the defense of Lindsey Wilson’s Kasia Niderla (8) during the second set. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Thomas More, in fact, positioned itself to win the Mid-South Conference regular-season championship. On Thursday night, the Saints hosted NAIA powerhouse Lindsey Wilson in a winner-take-all showdown in the regular-season finale. Both teams entered the match with 13-2 conference records. The Blue Raiders are ranked No. 10 nationally in the NAIA poll, while Thomas More is receiving votes.

In addition, Thomas More entered Thursday night having won 30 consecutive home matches, a streak that dated back to Sept. 21, 2016, when Hanover pulled out a five-set victory over the Saints in the Connor Convocation Center. The current Thomas More seniors were just freshmen. They had a chance on Thursday night to cap their home careers with a Mid-South Conference title and extend the winning streak to 31. Plus, it was Senior Night.

Could you write a more perfect scenario for the outgoing senior class?

But, welcome to life as a college student, when nothing is ever perfect. Lindsey Wilson ruined the evening for Thomas More and halted the winning streak with a 25-16, 25-21, 25-17 victory before a raucous crowd in the Connor Convocation Center. The Blue Raiders also captured the Mid-South Conference regular-season championship and earned the No. 1 seed for next week’s tournament at Bowling Green, Ky.

On an evening when it appeared everything had aligned perfectly for the seniors, Thomas More ran into the wrong opponent. Lindsey Wilson — featuring a roster with a distinctive international flavor — combined a strong serving game with an unstoppable middle hitter named Kasia Niderla to defeat Thomas More for the second time this season.

“We tried to double-team her, and then we ended up trying to triple-team her,” Thomas More co-interim head coach Katie Sullivan said of Niderla. “We tried to form our defense around her, but we struggled with her. She was unstoppable.”

Niderla, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Poniatowo, Poland, hammered down 15 kills and hit a blistering .429 behind a powerful right-handed swing. She also finished with seven blocks as Lindsey Wilson controlled the net and limited Thomas More to a .131 hitting percentage.

Thomas More’s Emily Mohs (left) finishes off a kill against Lindsey Wilson’s Camryn Rich. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Lindsey Wilson’s Abby Grubbs served up three consecutive aces in the first set as part of a 6-0 run that turned a 14-11 lead into an insurmountable 20-11 cushion. It also seemed to deflate the Thomas More crowd.

“They served and passed much better than we did,” Sullivan said.

Senior outside hitter Madison Krumpelman recorded 10 kills and 11 digs for Thomas More, which enters next week’s Mid-South Conference Tournament with a 22-7 record and the No. 2 seed. The Holy Cross graduate was honored in pregame ceremonies along with fellow seniors Jenna Mummert, Sara Crooker, Alli Borders and Rana Cousin.

“We knew they were a great team, we’d lost to them on the road and knew this was going to be a battle,” Krumpelman said. “It’s exciting because it was Senior Night, but we had to focus on the game, come together as a team, and we fell a little short.”

Alexis Smith added 11 kills for Lindsey Wilson, which is 26-5 overall. The Blue Raiders — a legitimate contender to win the NAIA national championship — also received four kills and a block from Mariana Pratali, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Emily Mohs finished with 12 kills and hit .303 for Thomas More, which has forged the impressive record under the direction of Sullivan and Elly Ogle. They were appointed as co-interims in August after former head coach John Spinney announced his resignation in July to take the same position at Mount St. Joseph.

Their reward was an inaugural season in the NAIA, a much tougher level of competition than non-scholarship NCAA Division III. This marked the third affiliation change for the current Thomas More seniors, who began their careers in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, played as an independent a year ago then joined the Mid-South Conference this season.

Thomas More defenders Sawyer Lorentz (4) and Madison Krumpelman (3) attempt to block Lindsey Wilson’s Kasia Niderla (8). (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“Our senior class has gone through a lot of adversity, playing in so many different conferences, going from the NCAA to the NAIA,” Krumpelman said. “We’ve been through the PAC, we’ve played as an independent and we’ve been very successful in the Mid-South. It’s been very challenging and exciting to play through all of them and overcome so much as a team.”

Despite the loss and the end of the home winning streak, Thomas More’s seniors still have a chance for redemption. It begins Thursday in Bowling Green, Ky., in the opening round of the Mid-South Conference Tournament.

“We just talked to them in the locker room, and told them we need to refocus for next week,” Sullivan said. “It’s a whole new season next week. I’m looking forward to the great competition. As we’ve found out in this league, every day is a new challenge. Any team can beat you. So we have to be prepared for next week.”

After that, regardless of the outcome, Thomas More is almost a lock to earn a trip to the NAIA Tournament. Then, who knows? Maybe the Saints will look back at what happened Thursday night as the pivotal moment in an extended postseason run. It certainly adds motivation for the next time Thomas More faces Lindsey Wilson, should they meet again this season.

That, indeed, would make for a perfect situation. And, if Lindsey Wilson awaits on the tournament path, you can be assured the Thomas More seniors aren’t dreading that future.

Thomas More seniors Jenna Mummert, Sara Crooker, Madison Krumpelman, Alli Borders and Rana Cousin were honored prior to the showdown with Lindsey Wilson. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Contact Don Owen at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport

Related Posts

Leave a Comment