For the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's volleyball team, the decade of the 1990s has been filled with many highlights and an incredible overall winning record of 396-107 (.787 winning percentage).
The Lady Cougars capped off the decade by posting a 44-5 overall record in 1999 to set a new school mark for highest winning percentage (.898). MVNC also fared well in tournament play as the team won the Kenyon College Invitational, the University of Michigan-Dearborn Classic, the Wazie Invitational, and the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Tournament. In addition, the Lady Cougars advanced to the semifinals of the NCCAA National Tournament and the finals of the NAIA Region IX Tournament.
After finishing second at the Michigan-Dearborn Earlybird Challenge to start the season, MVNC ran off 18 straight wins before losing at NCAA II California (PA) University. The team rebounded from that loss by winning their next 14 matches to finish the regular season with a 35-2 record.
During that span, the Lady Cougars wrapped up their second straight AMC title and their fourth conference title in the past six years with a perfect 13-0 mark - only the second time in conference history that a team has not lost a conference match. (MVNC also accomplished that feat in 1995.) Even more impressive was the fact that the team posted a 39-2 game record in conference play.
With the regular season behind them, the Lady Cougars geared up for the postseason. In its tenth straight appearance in the NCCAA National Tournament, the team advanced to the semifinals before falling to the eventual national champions, Christian Heritage (CA) College.
MVNC then played in the AMC Tournament at Walsh University and defeated Ohio Dominican College and Walsh to capture the title and earn the second seed at the NAIA Region IX Tournament.
As the regular-season AMC champions, the Lady Cougars earned the right to host the Region IX Tournament. MVNC won its two pool play matches over Malone College and Michigan-Dearborn in straight games to advance to the semifinals against Walsh. The team eliminated the Lady Cavaliers in five games to earn a berth in the championship match for the first time in school history.
In the championship match, the Lady Cougars faced top-seeded University of Findlay, ranked #16 in the final NAIA national poll. After winning the first game, MVNC dropped the next three games as the Lady Oilers won the match and received an automatic berth in the NAIA National Tournament.
The loss to Findlay snapped the Lady Cougars' 31-match home winning streak, which was the second-longest in team history. However, MVNC still managed to post an incredible 122-9 overall record (.931) at home during the decade of the 1990s.
"One of our team versus was I Thessalonians 5:11," said head coach Paul Swanson. "It says 'Therefore hearten one another and fortify one another'. This verse really applied to our team this year. The players really knew how to build up, strengthen, and energize each other. Mistakes, being behind, and losing a game did not bother them. They had a tremendous will to play."
"This team also exhibited great joy in playing," Swanson added. "They thrived on playing with each other, and they enjoyed orchestrating excellent play."
The 1999 Lady Cougars featured one of the most balanced attacks in the history of MVNC volleyball. Ten of the twelve players on the team received at least one honor during the season.
Senior outside hitter Rachel Widener led the way with team-highs of 617 digs and a .343 attack percentage. She also set a new school record with a .955 serve reception percentage. In addition, she compiled 32 aces, 51 assists, 102 blocks, and 474 kills as she was named to the AMC, NAIA Region IX, and NCCAA All-American First Teams. She also finishes her career ranked second in NAIA history in digs with 2452, and second in school history with 1766 kills.
Senior setter Becky Jefferys also closed out her career with a record year. Jefferys handed out a team-high 1011 assists and led the team with 754 serve attempts. She also contributed 26 kills, 42 aces, and 288 digs. She finishes her career as MVNC's all-time leader in serves (2680) and serving percentage (.980), while ranking second in assists (3242). Jefferys was named the AMC Setter of the Week twice and an NAIA and NCCAA Academic All-American.
Senior middle hitter Jessica Huffaker closed out her career with 22 assists, 58 digs, 128 blocks, and 354 kills as she was named to the AMC Second Team. Huffaker also ranks tenth in career kills (1055) and blocks (410).
Senior outside hitter Amber Rice wrapped up her career with a team-high 57 aces. She also added 14 assists, 23 kills, and 389 digs, and she was named to the Wazie Invitational All-Tournament Team. She ranks high in five MVNC career categories including fifth in career digs with 1496.
"I am very grateful for the accomplishments and leadership provided by this group of seniors," said Swanson. "These four players are tremendous people, and they have definitely left a mark on this program as their career record of 176-38 (.822) would indicate."
Juniors Scarlett Habrun and Amy Shearrow played key roles in the success of the team. Habrun, a middle hitter, moved into eighth place in career blocks (419) as she led the team with 166 blocks in 1999 and was named to the Michigan-Dearborn Classic All-Tournament Team. Shearrow, an outside hitter, tied for the team lead in serving percentage (.984) while also posting 18 aces and 318 digs.
Sophomore outside hitters Darcee Hoberg and Amanda Schumm also stepped up in the 1999 season. Hoberg, an AMC First Team and NCCAA Second Team All-American selection, pounded a team-high 493 kills to go along with 538 digs. Schumm, a member of the AMC Second Team, added 391 kills and a career-high 52 aces.
Sophomore setter Andrea Rudd had a breakout year as she posted 761 assists in the Lady Cougars' two-setter offensive attack. She also added 104 blocks to finish third on the team in that category. She was selected as the NCCAA National Setter of the Week once during the season.
Sophomore outside hitter Deanna Stayman also showed tremendous improvement as she received Honorable Mention in the NCCAA East Region after posting 25 aces and 407 digs to go along with a .935 serve reception percentage.
Freshmen Katie Zipf and Mary Jo Porter each made contributions in their first season of intercollegiate volleyball. Zipf, a middle hitter, was named to the AMC All-Freshmen Team after compiling 56 blocks and 96 kills. Meanwhile, Porter recorded nine aces, 31 kills, and 61 digs.
"I am extremely proud of this team," said Swanson. "Each player made tremendous improvements in their play since last year. The younger players really stepped up and contributed. This season was one total team effort."
Swanson and the Lady Cougars will now have to find a way to fill the roster spots that will be vacated by Widener, Jefferys, Huffaker, and Rice. However, with a solid core of experienced returning players, MVNC volleyball will look to continue its winning ways into the next millennium.