JOHNSTOWN — Since reaching the finals of the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 3 Division III Tournament and falling short last season, the Fulton-Montgomery volleyball team set a goal of returning to and winning the title match this season.
FMCC defeated Broome Community College in the championship match on Sunday at Niagara County Community College, grinding out a five-set win over the Hornets by scores of 19-25, 25-21, 16-25, 25-17 and 15-13. The victory earned the Lady Raiders a spot in the NJCAA Division III Championship at Northampton Community College in Rochester, Minn., on Nov. 10-12.
“It’s been our goal for the last several years, but especially since last year when we lost in the championship match,” FMCC head coach Tina Olyer said. “It feels great. A good portion of last year’s team was part of this year’s team and it’s something that they’ve worked so hard for.”
Claiming the crown was anything but easy for the Lady Raiders, who had to overcome an injury to Madelyn Avery, who was named the Region 3 Player of the Year.
“The team played with incredible determination, grit and heart throughout the entire weekend and left it all on the court. We couldn’t be more proud of them,” Olyer said. “The whole weekend was a great experience all the way around. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Avery went down with an ankle injury in FMCC’s first pool play match on Saturday, leaving a large void for the Lady Raiders to fill.
“We lost her in the second set of our very first match. To lose Maddy, who is one of our captains, was like a punch to the stomach,” Olyer said. “We had to use different lineups than we’ve used all year. We adjusted on the fly and we competed hard. The lineup we used in the championship match Sunday was one we hadn’t used all season.”
Despite losing the region’s top player, FMCC posted 3-0 wins in each of their pool play matches on the opening day of the two-day regional tournament.
The third-seeded Lady Raiders opened pool play with with a 25-18, 25-18, 25-17 win over sixth-seeded Genesee Community College. In its second pool play contest, FMCC notched a 25-20, 25-16, 25-11 victory over eight-seeded Herkimer Community College.
The Lady Raiders closed out pool play with a 25-21, 26-24, 26-24 victory over top-seeded Finger Lakes Community College, avenging on of their three regular-season losses in the process.
“To go 9-0 on Saturday was an incredible feat on its own given the situation. One of those wins was over one of the two teams that had beaten us in the regular season,” Olyer said. “To come back Sunday and win after a five-set battle was just amazing.”
Olyer said that much of the credit for her team’s perseverance and success goes to her team captains – Avery, Hannah Hofmann and Sadie Blowers.
“We really put it back in their hands,” Olyer said. “The captains have been holding regular team-only meetings all season to talk about the goals for the season. I think it has really helped the team refocus and re-center themselves.”
The team itself is an experienced group comprised entirely of players from the area that includes sophomores Hailee Thompson, Aireana Muhlberger, Alana Biasini, Mercedes Lugo, Deandra Myers, Krystal McSpirit, Blowers, Avery and Hofmann. The roster includes just two freshmen – Alivia Wilson and Arryana King.
“This is really a mature group of young ladies,” Olyer said. “They’ve known since last season what they wanted to accomplish this year. They put in the time and effort, and they were able to get it done.”
It’s a group that is a combined 40-5 over the last two seasons. FMCC is 25-3 this year and went 15-2 last season.
“It’s been an amazing two years,” Olyer said. “This group has been great to coach.”
On Sunday, the Lady Raiders needed five sets to complete the mission that began after last year’s 3-1 championship match loss to Finger Lakes.
The weekend also featured plenty of support for FMCC.
“We had an outstanding show of support with us all weekend at regionals from families and friends to a group of soccer players who have all been extremely supportive of us the entire season,” Olyer said. “Meghan Druziak took some amazing pictures throughout the weekend and Kevin Jones, our athletic director, was there to support us. It was incredible for them all to be able to celebrate the victory with us.”
The show of support continued when FMCC arrived back in the area on Sunday.
“When we got back, we got an escort from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s and the Mohawk Fire Department from Exit 28 to the Thruway back to campus,” Olyer said. “There was a line of 30 cars following the bus and the team appreciative of the support. They were thrilled to have that kind of welcome home.”
The Lady Raiders also returned home with plenty of hardware to go along with their championship trophy.
Blowers was named the Region III Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while McSpirit, Muhlberger and Myers were named to the all-tournament team.
In addition to earning Player of the Year honors in Region 3, Avery also was named first-team all-region and Olyer is hoping she will be able to play at the national tourney.
“I think she’ll be back for the national tournament, but there are no guarantees,” she said. “We don’t have any expectations.”
Blowers and Muhlberger were both named third-team all-region.
“They fought hard all weekend. They dug deep and pulled it out. [Assistant coach] Mike [Calvello] and I couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Olyer said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s the first time we’ve had a player named Region 3 Player of the Year.”
The postseason awards were additional icing on the cake that has been a pretty sweet season for the Lady Raiders, who also won and hosted the Mountain Valley Conference Tournament on Oct. 22.
“Having and hosting the conference tournament really helped us. It would have a been a really big gap between matches without it,” Olyer said. “We also were able to have a nice team dinner right here at the college after the conference tournament. It was really great to get all of the players, and their families and friends together.”
FMCC also has had some help from some familiar faces in its effort to prepare for its postseason run.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of alumni in the area and they’ve been a big help in keeping us sharp,” Olyer said. “We’ve scrimmaged them two or three times a week for they last three to four weeks. They’re a competitive group and they don’t take it easy on us. It’s really helped us get ready and they are part of our program’s success.”
The Lady Raiders will look to continue their successful season next week in Minnesota.
“It’s exciting to be heading to nationals,” Olyer said. “We’re going to work hard to get ready and see what happens.”
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