The 2018 Laramie County Community College volleyball team ended its 2018 campaign much like the 2017 campaign, but on the winning side this time.
LCCC had an eventful season, starting the year with a 7-7 record. The Golden Eagles would catch fire and go 25-2 for the rest of the season.
The Golden Eagles had experienced players with 10 sophomores on the roster. With the advantage of having so many sophomores on the team, the Golden Eagles gained leadership and earned their way to an overall record of 32-9 record.
The Golden Eagles won the Region IX District C championship to earn their shot at a national title. The tournament was held in Hutchinson, Kan.
LCCC opened the NJCAA national tournament against second-seeded College of Southern Idaho. The Golden Eagles would drop this game, but according to head coach Austin Albers, they didn’t play up to the potential he knows they have.
“CSI is a very good team, but we didn’t have to force them to be a good team,” Albers said.
According to Albers, the 3-0 loss to CSI was the worst that the Golden Eagles have performed statically. The team hit for -101 percent, one of the worst of the year. Sophomores Avery Nelson, who ended the year in second in the nation in kills, was held to just four. Kylie Martin only had four kills as well.
The Golden Eagles wouldn’t let the loss affect them as they went on to beat No. 10 New Mexico Military Institute and No. 11 Snow College.
“It really speaks volumes about the players, and the way that they were able to let it go and move on” Albers said.
The Golden Eagles went on to play in the ninth-place match against No. 8 Mineral Area College, who LCCC lost to in the opening round of the 2017 NJCAA tournament. Also in the 2017 tournament, the Golden Eagles played in the ninth-place match but dropping that match to Panola College.
It was a different story this year.
LCCC went on to beat Mineral Area College 3-1 (22-25, 25-22, 27-25, 25-23). Nelson recorded a match-high 17 kills while Martin had 11 of her own. Kasandra Sturges had a match-high 47 assists. The match also showed early signs of what next year could look like for the Golden Eagles. Freshman Jazzy Espinoza recorded 15 kills while freshman McKayla Earl tallied seven digs.
According to Albers, Espinoza is a person who always knows how to crack a joke.
“She is someone that just fits. You can coach her tough but she is someone that has a joke lined up, she can definitely lighten the mood,” Albers said.
The 6-foot-2 Cheyenne East High School graduate is someone Albers looks forward to stepping in as a leader in the 2019 campaign.
“I think underneath that (the joking) there is a really good leader, I think she is one of those players that can step up and be vocal and lead by example next year for us,” Albers said.
Albers went on to add with her experience at East High, where she won the 2016 Wyoming State Championship and finished as state runner-up her senior year, and now in the national tournament, the freshman that come into LCCC for 2019 will see her résumé and respect what she has accomplished.
With the 2018 season campaign in the rear view mirror, the Golden Eagles have a lot of positivity to look back on. They finished their season top three in the nation in major categories. The Golden Eagles finished first in points as a team (2,545), they took second in kills (1,913), assists (1,740), block assists (610), and finished third in serving aces (280).
Along with the great statline, the Golden Eagles have had three players sign with schools at the next level. Elizabeth Clark signed with NCAA Division II Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Alessia Venturelli, a native of Modena, Italy, signed with NCAA Division I University of North Florida. Renae Davis signed with NAIA University of Providence in Great Falls, Montana., Nelson signed with Division I Long Beach State University.
Nelson made the NJCAA All-National Tournament team and was also the Region IX North player of the year. Also named to first-team for Region IX North was Kylie Martin, Sturges, Payton Stack, and Espinoza. 5-foot–2 libero Kyle Meltzer made the second team. For the Region IX tournament, Martin, Meltzer, and Clark were named to the all-tournament team. Albers also won Region IX North coach of the year for the second year in a row.
Nelson notched the 1,000 kill-mark, and Sturges passed the 1,000 assists mark on Nov. 16 against Snow College.
According to Albers, the team was special to him and assistant coach Madison Lacey, because they accomplished what Albers pushed all year which was Building It Bigger.
“Thank you so much for turning this program into something special, for allowing me to coach you and trusting me and building it bigger. That’s been the motto all year and you guys 100 percent got it done,” said Albers to his team after they beat Mineral Area College.