WolfPack volleyball team defends its national title

Madison College repeats as NJCAA Division III volleyball champion

Tearful and joyous Madison College volleyball players celebration their second-straight NJCAA Division III National Championship.

Madison College Athletics

Tearful and joyous Madison College volleyball players celebration their second-straight NJCAA Division III National Championship.

Joe Ballard and Brooke Rayford, Staff Writers

How many National Champions can say they have won two in a row? The Madison College WolfPack volleyball team can. The team repeated as National Champions, winning all three of its matches in the NJCAA Division III National Tournament.

The WolfPack defeated Lorain County Community College Commodores on Nov. 15 in a tense, five-game match to claim its second-straight national title.

“Our captains early in the season, our second year players early in the season, made it very clear that this was something they wanted,” WolfPack Coach Toby Parker said immediately after the title match. “And this was something that we truly believed, after last year, that we could do.

Josh Zytkiewicz

“You hear that enough and you talk about it every day, even with the first year kids, and that stuff starts to stick. And it did. … And the way it all came together it was great, fun.”

No. 1 seed Madison College breezed through the first round of the tournament defeating eighth seeded Fashion IT in three sets by scores of 25-13, 25-13, and 25-15.

The semifinals match against fifth seeded Brookhaven started out with the WolfPack dropping the first two sets, 18-25 and 22-25.  They fought their way back and claimed the final three sets 25-20, 25-21 and 15-8 to advance to the championship match.

The championship match came down to the wire as the WolfPack matched up against six seed Lorain County, who as a team led the nation in kills per set.

“We knew defensively they were going to be good,” said Parker. “When you’re a good defensive team you just continue to create opportunities. You keep getting swings; you keep the ball off the ground, keep creating opportunities to score points. They’re very good at it.”

Madison College won the first set 25-20. Lorain County evened things up by taking a close second set by a score of 29-27. The WolfPack responded with a strong performance and took the third set 25-16. The Commodores wouldn’t give in and won the fourth set 25-19 to set up a winner takes all final set.

The WolfPack dug deeper to win the deciding match 16-14 and emerged as NCJAA Division III National Champions. It was only the fourth time all season Madison College was taken to the fifth set. Coach Parker knew his team was prepared for it, though.

“We trained for it,” said Parker. “We have drills that associate conditioning as well as play, so they are forced to play really tired and perform really tired.”

Leading the way for the WolfPack was tournament MVP sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Wirag who had school record 25 kills during the final bout with Lorain County.

Hannah Grahn also set a new school record for a match by recording 59 assists against the Commodores.  Grahn also ranks second all time in assists with 1,031 over her career with Madison College.

Grahn spoke on what she thought the biggest hurdle the team overcame this season.

“Putting all these players together and not ever playing together before was challenging,” said Grahn. “Throwing everyone on a court and meshing together, I think it took time. That was the biggest obstacle.”

Defensively Sydney Clarson recorded school single-season digs record with 630, bumping her older sister Vanessa down to second. Sydney ranks third all-time for Madison College with 847 career digs. Clarson said it felt good to beat her sister, taking the upper hand in their sibling rivalry.

“Coach called me in before the tournament started and told me you have this many  (digs) to get to beat your sister,” said Clarson. “Then he told me right in the middle of the last game before I went on the court that I had beaten the record. So that was a nice feeling.”

Madison College had four players make the All-Tournament team. Wirag and Grahn were given the honor along with Allie Lehner and Mikayla Nigl. To top things offs Head Coach Toby Parker was named “National Coach of the Year.”