Winning a national championship is the dream of anybody who plays sports.
For the 2011 UTB/TSC volleyball team, the dream came true at 9:40 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
For head coach and mastermind Todd Lowery, it was a third national championship in nine years coaching college volleyball. In six seasons at National American University in Rapid City, S.D., Lowery took all six teams to the NAIA National Championship Tournament. He won two titles in 2002 and 2006 and posted an amazing record of 211 wins and 22 losses, a winning percentage of .905.
When the NAU volleyball program was shut down in 2008, Lowery took a year off to make sure his student-athletes had another university to play for.
Lowery has now spent three years at UTB/TSC, and has posted a record of 104-7, for an even-better winning percentage of .937. And now, he has guided the Scorpions to their first national championship in any sport.
His seven losses in three years have all come to only the very best teams each year:
- 2009: 38-3 record: Three losses to champion Fresno Pacific University (Calif.) in the quarterfinals, finalist Georgetown College (Ky.) on a neutral floor, and semifinalist Concordia University (Calif.) at the national tournament.
- 2010: 38-2 record: Two losses to champion Fresno Pacific in the national champion, and semifinalist Lee University (Tenn.) on its home floor.
- 2011: 32-2 record: Two losses to finalist Concordia on its home floor and quarterfinalist Biola University (Calif.) on its home floor.
The Scorpions have dominated the Red River Athletic Conference all three seasons under Lowery, posting records of 16-0 in 2009, 14-0 in 2010 and 9-0 in 2011. In the 39-0 mark over the three years, the Scorpions have won 34 matches by 3-0 scores and the other five by 3-1 margins.
"This is my third one," Lowery said. "But to come to another school, and to start all over again and build it again to a championship level has been a lot of fun."
Fun was a big part of the success. Against the tougher opponents and at the national opponents, the passion and intensity grew stronger. When the Scorpions would make a big block or a big kill, the players would react with screams and pump fists toward each other. Middle blocker Ana Guerra from Brazil is known best for jumping up and down after a block or kill as if she was on a pogo stick.
The team was passionate about winning. The players did not like to lose.
Lowery, who has become a world-wide recruiter, lost only four players from the 2010 season. As a freshman in 2010, outside hitter Danica Markovic from Serbia made First Team All-America. Guerra, also a freshman then, blossomed as a sophomore.
Lowery brought three new players who made big impacts -- setter Amber Brooks from Houston, outside hitter Yenifer Calcano from the Dominican Republic, and middle blocker Vanja Joksic from Serbia.
"This year we knew we had something special at the start of the season," Lowery said. "It took a lot of hard work throughout the season, but we had to play perfect when we went to nationals. There were so many good teams. Any of six or seven teams could have won it. The girls performed and did everything we worked on all season long."
Ten players had impacts on the team:
- Senior hitter Erica Chimak (6-1) from Brazil played outside hitter on many rotations. She has played with Lowery for all three seasons and was best known for her leaping ability and strong attacks.
- Sophomore hitter Michelle Marques (6-2) from Brazil split time with Chimak at one rotation for much of the season. She came back strong after suffering a knee injury during the 2010 season, and provided more power from the same position. She was named to the All-RRAC Honorable Mention.
- Senior hitter Katharina Nobel (6-4) from Germany also played in the same outside hitter position. She had some clutch performances during the season at outside hitter while some teammates were on not playing because of early-season injuries. She was named to the All-RRAC First Team.
- Senior defensive specialist Anayeli Trevino (5-1) from Brownsville was the smallest player on the floor. She subbed for Marques and Nobel on the back row throughout the season, although she was more than a foot shorter. She made some big defensive plays at the national tournament, and was on the floor for the last point when the Scorpions clinched the championship.
- Junior outside hitter Yenifer Calcano (5-9) from the Dominican Republic came on strong during the second half of the year. She was the most athletic player on the team, and her leaping ability and powerful attacks caught many opponents by surprise. She was named All-RRAC Honorable Mention. She got an assisted block on the final point to end the season.
- Junior libero Paula Barros (5-9) from Brazil was one of the most versatile players. She played as a setter and outside hitter in 2010, but trimmed down to become the best libero in the RRAC. She led the RRAC in digs with an average of 5.3 per set. She was on the floor in multiple rotations and was always ready to dig up powerful attacks and serves from opponents. For her efforts, she was named NAIA All-America Honorable Mention, RRAC Defensive Specialist of the Year and First Team All-RRAC.
- Freshman newcomer Vanja Joksic (6-1) from Serbia came on strong late in the season, and was named Most Valuable Player in the RRAC Tournament. She rotated with Guerra as middle blocker, and a powerful weapon on the block and on attacks. Joksic was not the most powerful attacker, but was the most effective with a .428 attack percentage. She was also the most animated and emotional player on the Scorpion squad after big points. Her reactions drew smiles and laughs from Scorpion teammates and fans. She was named to the NAIA National All-Tournament Team, and was named First Team All-RRAC.
- Senior setter Amber Brooks (5-7) from Houston was the engineer of the offense. She transferred from NCAA Division I University of Houston to come to a school where she could get more playing time and make an impact. She was in charge of distributing the ball to her talented attackers and middle blockers to keep defenses honest. She played big at the national tournament from the back row, and averaged 4.0 digs per set in national tournament matches. She was All-America Honorable Mention, RRAC Setter of the Year and All-RRAC First Team. She averaged 10.8 assists per set and never came out of a match.
- Sophomore outside hitter Danica Markovic (5-11) from Sderbia was the power. Her running jump serves and amazing attacks from the outside were scary at times. She was named Most Valuable Player at the NAIA Tournament and was even triple-teamed in some situations by opponents. She never rested during a match, and was very effective defensively from the back row. She was named First Team All-America in 2010 and Second Team in 2011. She was also named to the All-RRAC First Team for the second straight year.
- Sophomore middle blocker Ana Guerra (6-1) from Brazil was the leaper on the team. She could jump so high, that she could put her armpits above the net to block shots. She led the nation in blocks per set with a 1.7 average, and also No. 1 in attack percentage with a .411 mark. Guerra was a special talent, and could have been selected as the NAIA Player of the Year but was not because she plays the middle blocker position and is in the match about 50 percent of the time. She was also one of the more emotional players on the team, especially after blocks and kills.
National champions. The two words say it all.