After a hard fought season, the Bulldogs’ historic year came to an end last Sunday. The Bulldogs were on fire to start out the NCAA tournament, but couldn’t get past the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs. Coach Jim Boos couldn’t be prouder of his team and the mountain of achievements they made during their thrilling season.
“The fact that we came off of a year where we lost arguably the best player in our program’s history and to be able to come back the next year and have the best record this program has ever had, says a lot about what this team was able to accomplish,” Boos said.
Just a few days prior, the Bulldogs kicked off the regional tournament by taking on Arkansas Tech in front of UMD faithful in what would end in a drubbing. The Bulldogs were in complete control from the opening set and were able to finish their opponent in three straight sets.
Captain Julie Rainey was all over the court, keeping the crowd fired up with a few jaw-dropping digs. She would finish the night with 14. Sydnie Mauch provided the support needed up front with 12 kills to lead the team and hit .526. All Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Player Ashley Hinsch finished with 38 assists to add to her impressive season total. The Bulldogs were ready for their next opponent, who happened to be their conference rival Wayne State.
The Bulldogs had every reason to be confident going into their Friday night game against Wayne State. UMD seemed to have their number all season, finishing 3-0 against them during the regular season and defeating them in straight sets in the NSIC tournament championship. It was a major case of déjà vu as the Bulldogs beat Wayne State by the same score and at the same place. Mariah Scharf and Monica Turner carried the load up front — each registering double-digit kills. Hinsch would be the difference maker, finishing with 40 assists to help lead the Bulldogs to victory.
The Bulldogs next test would be against Southwest Minnesota State to decide who would make it out of their region. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Bulldogs’ night as they fell in four sets in their final game of an almost perfect season.
In front of a sold-out crowd, the Bulldogs fought until the final point but could not get past the surging Mustangs of Southwest Minnesota State. The Mustangs got hot at just the right time and knocked off three top-five teams in the process of winning out their region. Rainey gives all the credit to Southwest Minnesota State for their win while admitting her team wasn’t quite able to get into their system.
“I think it was a combination of both,” Rainey said. “I think they played great and we just weren't able to make some big plays.”
It was the last game that Rainey suited up for as a Bulldog. However, it’s unlikely that this will be the end of Rainey’s volleyball career.
“I will always continue to play volleyball in leagues or just wherever I can,” she said. “I think eventually I will coach something, I just don't think I will be in the near future.”
Boos couldn’t say enough about what Rainey has meant to this program, and all the things that made her one of the best captains this program has ever seen.
“I just think she’s so relatable, not only is she relatable to the players but to the coaching staff, to the media, parents,” Boos said. “She has all the qualities you need of someone to be not only successful on the court but also successful off the court. She led by example by working hard and doing all the little things you need to do to put yourself in a position to be successful. She’s the prototypical leader.”
It’s evident that the next captain and libero will have very large shoes to fill for next season, but Boos makes it clear that you simply can’t replace a player like Rainey.
“We certainly can’t expect someone to be Julie Rainey next year, because I think she’s the best in the country for what she did this year and is probably the best at her position in this program’s history.”
BY JAKE PRZYTARSKI Statesman Correspondant