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Big 3-1 weekend at Hutch drives NC volleyball to Tyler

What a week for Navarro’s volleyball Bulldogs.

In a span of four days they traveled to East Texas and Kansas and defeated the No. 3-, the No. 2- and the No. 6-ranked teams in the nation, knocking off third-ranked Panola in four sets in a critical conference match on Wednesday, and then taking three-of-four matches in the prestigious Blue Dragon Invitational in Hutchinson, Ks., where a long list of ranked teams played Friday and Saturday.

Navarro beat second-ranked Iowa Western, coming back to win in five sets, 24-26, 22-25, 25-20, 25-23, 17-15 in five sets, and lost to No. 14 Mineral Area in four sets on Friday, but bounced back to bet No. 6 Indian Hills 15-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 17-15, storming back to win in the final three sets. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 17 in the nation, also beat unranked but highly regarded New Mexico Military 25-11, 25-21, 17-25, 26-24, in four sets to complete the weekend.

“It was a good weekend,” said Hall of Fame coach Ronda Shirley, who has come to Navarro and turned the program around. She was a legend at Hutchinson, where she started the Blue Dragon Invitational years ago.

She came back with her new team and left beaming about her kids.

“I’m really proud of them,” Shirley said. “They really went up there to do what we wanted — to give it our best and compete.

“The one thing I will say about our kids is they never give up. They don’t get down on themselves. That’s the thing I am most proud of for them.”

Navarro (15-5) not only came back to beat Iowa Western and No. 6 Indian Hills, but the Bulldogs played the second day at Hutchinson without freshman Hayley Daniel, one of the team’s biggest hitters who was nursing an injury.

Daniel compiled 32 kills and 28 digs during Friday’s action against Mineral Area and Iowa Western.

“Our kids played real well and players like Carolina Barbosa (the team’s biggest hitter) did her normal (exceptional) play, and both our setters, Bia Berti and Ivona Vojvodic, played really well. But other kids really stepped up over the weekend. We had a lot of kids come through.

Barbosa consistently produced double-figure kills in each match, totaling 47 for the tournament.

Berti amassed 131 assists and 53 digs during the four matches, including 46/18 in the comeback win over the Reivers.  Vojvodic had 33 assists and 17 digs, while libero Alice Bermudez made 11 assists and 65 digs during the two days.

Velika and sophomore Paola Lopez-Sanabria came to forefront up front.

“With Hayley out I moved Viktoria (Velika) to the outside to replace Hayley and Viktoria really stepped up on the outside. Moving her, we moved Paola Lopez-Sanabria to take her spot, and Lopez really stepped up and played great.

Velika had a team-high 49 kills, including a total 24 in two Saturday matches.  Lopez-Sanabria, one of three returning sophomores, had 14 kills against Iowa Western.

“Different kids stepped up at different times,” she said. “Hannah Brink (a middle hitter) was a pivotal part of Game 5 against Iowa Western (5 block-assists against IWCC, plus six kills against Indian Hills). We needed her in there, and she was a big part of that win for us.”

Other big timely tournament play came from freshman Hannah Barosh, who had 16 kills and 15 digs on Saturday and Shelby Heitkamp, who had 12 digs Friday.  

Shirley said the way her players responded and came through together and their no-quit attitude were the highlights of the tournament.

“I’m really proud of them,” she said.

It doesn’t get easier. Navarro, which is playing a 17-match stretch on the road against some of the best competition in the nation, will be in the Tyler Invitational this weekend, facing a huge tests with Seward County, Ks. and NMMI on Friday, plus Monroe College, NY., and Hutchinson, Ks., on Saturday.

The Bulldogs have now won 12 of their last 14 with a long road ahead in what has been an incredible season.