By MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Sun
CARTHAGE — Navarro’s incredible volleyball season ended Sunday in a loss to San Jacinto in the Region XIV Tournament at Panola.
The Bulldogs (27-12) had fought their way back in the double-elimination tournament to reach Sunday’s semifinals, but lost to San Jac for the second time. Navarro lost the opening match of the tournament to San Jac in five sets Friday morning, but stormed back to sweep Wharton to stay alive Friday evening. The Bulldogs then swept Blinn, the top-seeded team in the tournament, on Saturday to forge ahead as one of the four teams — Navarro, San Jacinto, Panola and Tyler — remaining on Sunday.
The Bulldogs, who have never made the trip to nationals in volleyball, were literally two wins away from reaching the national tournament. The top two teams from the region advanced to the national tournament at The Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Ks, next week.
Panola (25-6) defeated San Jacinto in four sets Sunday to eliminate San Jac (26-7) and become one of the two teams headed for Kansas along with Tyler.
Navarro split a pair of games against Panola in Zone play this season.
The Bulldogs had a remarkable season and were the first to win more than 20 games at Navarro since 2011, but what’s even more impressive is the way this group turned the program around.
The Bulldogs went 6-31 last season and didn’t win a game in the Region XIV North Zone, but stormed back this season to produce one of the best seasons in Navarro history under Hall of Fame coach Ronda Shirley.
Shirley was hired last winter and changed everything at Navarro from the first day she arrived and watched her team soar into the national picture. The Bulldogs spent almost the entire season ranked in the Top 20 in the NJCAA national poll, and made a name for themselves, playing one of the most difficult schedules in the nation.
Shirley loses six sophomores, but will have a strong team returning, including Hayley Daniel, who was one of Navarro’s big hitters this season. Daniel suffered a foot injury and sat out most of the second half of the season.
Carolina Barbosa finished a memorable season Sunday, leading Navarro at the net with 20 kills in the three-set match, and she also had six digs. She was a dominant player all year and even better in the region tournament, where she had 79 kills in four matches, including 30 in the opening against San Jacinto in a heartbreaking five-set loss.
Viktoria Velika, who came on strong as a force at the net after Daniel was injured, had eight kills Sunday and finished the tournament with 36 kills. Beatriz Berti also finished strong. She had 37 assists on Sunday and finished the tournament with 130 assists and 40 digs.
Alice Bermudez had 12 digs and four assists Sunday. Freshmen Hannah Barosh had seven kills and seven digs Sunday and Shelby Heitkamp added 12 digs to help lead the defense.