Top of Its Game
Volleyball Team Advances to NCAA Division III Final Four
As the 2005 season approached, the Wittenberg volleyball team had all the earmarks of a program in transition. After five players, including four All-Americans, graduated from the record-setting 2004 team, the Tigers and Head Coach Paco Labrador had a tall task ahead.
From that uncertain start, the Tiger volleyball team achieved more than any women’s athletic program in school history.
The Tigers won their ninth straight North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship, advanced to their 10th straight NCAA Division III Tournament and captured their third Great Lakes Regional championship in the last four years. After losing in the national quarterfinals in their previous two appearances, the Tigers broke through in dramatic fashion, capturing a 3-2 win over New York University before falling in equally dramatic fashion by a 3-2 margin against defending national champion Juniata College.
It was Wittenberg’s first appearance in the NCAA Division III Volleyball Final Four and the best national finish ever for a Tiger women’s athletic program, regardless of sport. It was also the university’s first appearance in a national Final Four since the men’s basketball program placed third in 1994.
In addition, Wittenberg became just the third Ohio-based NCAA Division III school to advance to the national semifinals. No university from the state has ever won an NCAA volleyball crown, regardless of division.
Ironically, the Tigers’ 63-match NCAC regular season win streak come to an end at Hiram on Oct. 7. And a month later, Wittenberg’s nine-year run with a player designated NCAC Player of the Year came to an end. But while the players and coaches didn’t receive much in the way of individual awards, they gained something greater – memories of an improbable run to the national semifinals that included a streak of 18 straight victories, ending with the loss to Juniata in Salem, Va.
“This was the culmination of so much hard work,” said Labrador, who has a phenomenal three-year record of 97-15. “This team came together and accomplished so much. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”