Zone VB champion Navarro faces Panola on Wednesday

Zone VB champion Navarro faces Panola on Wednesday

By MIKE MONTFORT   /   (Photos by Keith Speer)  —

CARTHAGE — Region XIV East Zone volleyball champion Navarro (30-3/4-1) completes its league season here Wednesday when it tangles with the Panola Fillies (22-5) at Arthur Johnson Gymnasium.

Coach Ronda Shirley’s Bulldogs, winners of six matches in succession and 12 of the last 13, continue their drive for higher seeding in the Region XIV Tournament scheduled November 2-4 at Lee College in Baytown.

For NC, it’s all about getting stronger, better and adding more momentum heading to the tournament. A win Wednesday would assure the Bulldogs an East Zone title win by two games over their nearest nationally ranked competitors.

Eighth-ranked Navarro clinched the zone title last Wednesday with a 3-1 win over 10th-rated Trinity Valley at Athens High School’s Sports Arena, in the process of becoming the third NC volleyball team to win 30 matches in a single season.

Heading into final regular-season matches Wednesday, the other three teams — (13) Panola, (10) TVCC and (11) Tyler — have 2-3 records and remain in battle for the East Zone’s three automatic qualifications to the regional tournament.  In Wednesday evening’s other matchup, Tyler (23-6) will carry an 11-match winning streak to Cardinal Gym in Athens where it challenges TVCC (18-3).

The zone’s fourth-place finisher still will have a chance to reach the regional tournament.  It will meet the South Zone’s fifth-place finisher in a tournament ‘play-in’ match for the right to advance to Baytown.

According to NJCAA statistics through Monday, the Bulldogs continue to lead the nation in block assists (465) and total blocks (342).  They are second in blocks per set (3.0), third in matches played (33) and points (1851), fourth in sets played (114), sixth in kills (1359), seventh in attacks (3514) and assists (1246), 12th in digs (1609), 13th in block solos (109) and 18th in hitting percentage (.250).

NC has developed depth and used it often during its last three weekend classics.  Twelve players have appeared in 15 matches or more this season; 10 have played 50 or more sets; and eight — led by transfer Bailey Foy (286.5) — have produced a minimum of 129 points.

Sophomore libero Luana Almeida, along with setter Emily Witt, outside hitter Natalie Garcia and middle blocker Deja Arnold — all freshmen — have appeared in all 33 matches.  Foy and outside hitters Hannah Barosh and Viktoria Velika — all sophomores — have played in a minimum 26 matches.  Recently, team play has been reinforced by freshmen Adysen Ard, Monica Wood, Walia Franklin and Alexis Miller, who all have stepped up with quality play.

Witt leads the NJCAA in assists (1145).  Arnold tops the charts in block assists (112) and total (150), plus ranks 17th in solos (38).  Almeida ranks sixth nationally in digs (499).  Velika (.337) and Foy (.326) rank among the Top 33 nationally in hitting percentage.

Navarro has three non-conference meetings to wrap up its regular-season — and two of those are scheduled at The Wolens Special Events Center (Paul Quinn College on October 23 and Hill College on October 27).