During the decade of the 1990s, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's volleyball team has established itself as one of the top teams in the NAIA Great Lakes Region by compiling a 352-102 overall record (.775 winning percentage) during that span. Even more impressive is that fact that in the 23 years of the program's existence, the Lady Cougars have posted a 604-287 record and a .678 winning percentage.
Now, as the 1998 season has come to a close for MVNC, the Lady Cougars have exceeded all expectations but their own as the team finished the year with a school-best 54-7 overall mark that included an American Mideast Conference championship, the AMC Tournament title, and semifinal appearances in both the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament and the NAIA Great Lakes Region Tournament.
"I am very proud of what we accomplished on and off the court this season," said head coach Paul Swanson. "We met every challenge with desire and consistency. It was a long season and we kept our focus throughout it."
In a season filled with many highlights, several things stick out. First, the team started off the year by winning its first 33 matches to set new school records for best start to a season and most consecutive wins. During the midst of that winning streak, MVNC won the King (TN) College Invitational with victories over Lee (TN) University, Milligan (TN) College, Trevecca Nazarene (TN) University, and Bluefield (VA) College (twice).
"Winning the King Tournament was a big accomplishment," said Swanson. "We beat some very good teams and dominated the tournament. Lee eventually went on to the NAIA National Tournament, and we beat them in straight games."
Another highlight was beating Madonna (MI) University, ranked #18 in the NAIA, in an exciting five-game match. It marked the Lady Cougars' first-ever victory over the perennial Great Lakes Region powerhouse.
MVNC also did well in the newly-formed American Mideast Conference as the Lady Cougars finished in a three-way tie for first place with Cedarville College and Walsh University with identical 14-2 conference marks. MVNC defeated Walsh in four games in the only meeting between the two teams, while the Lady Cougars split with Cedarville in the two regular-season matches.
However, after sharing the regular-season title, MVNC proved that they were the best team in the conference by winning the AMC Tournament without losing a single game. The Lady Cougars defeated Geneva (PA) College, Ohio Dominican College, and Cedarville on their way to the tournament title.
For the second year in a row, the team also advanced to the semifinals of both the NCCAA National Tournament and the NAIA Great Lakes Region Tournament. In both of these highly-competitive events, the Lady Cougars fell to the eventual champion Bethel (IN) College, who advanced to the NAIA National Tournament and finished the season ranked #11 in the NAIA.
One key to the season was the fact that none of MVNC's losses were considered upsets. The Lady Cougars fell to Christian Heritage (CA) College (ranked #14 in the NAIA), Taylor (IN) University (ranked #17 in the NAIA), Malone College, Cedarville, Madonna, and Bethel (twice). On the other hand, MVNC defeated such teams as Madonna, Lee, Walsh, Cedarville (three times), Bluefield (twice), and Malone.
Individually, several players had great seasons. Senior middle hitter Tara Seiter closed out her stellar career by setting numerous school records including most kills in a season (780), most blocks in a season (302), most kills in a career (2728), most blocks in a career (1003), and most aces in a career (210). She was the runner-up for the Player of the Year in the NAIA Great Lakes Region, and she was also named the conference Player of the Year and an NCCAA First Team All-American for the third straight season.
"Tara has had an incredible four-year career for us," Swanson said. "She is very deserving of all the recognition that she has received. It is a tremendous honor for her to be considered the second best player in our very strong region."
Senior setter Mandy Hendrickx also closed out her career by leading the team with 1054 assists and 72 aces. She finishes her career ranked third among the Lady Cougars' all-time assists leaders with 3132.
Junior outside hitter Rachel Widener joined Seiter on the AMC First Team and the NCCAA All-American First Team after pounding 427 kills and leading the team with 611 digs. She also posted a .290 attack percentage and recorded 115 blocks.
Freshmen outside hitters Amanda Schumm and Darcee Hoberg also made quite an impact for MVNC in their first year on the team. Schumm and Hoberg pounded 430 and 345 kills respectively as they were both named to the AMC All-Freshmen Team, while Schumm also made the AMC Second Team.
Junior middle hitter Jessica Huffaker was also named to the AMC Second Team. She recorded 93 digs, 137 blocks, and 358 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Amy Shearrow put her name in the MVNC record book by serving at a 98.9 clip. She also posted 475 digs and 24 aces.
The Lady Cougars will lose Seiter and Hendrickx from this year's team, but the other four starters will be back in 1999 to continue the successful tradition that has become synonymous with MVNC volleyball.