ARKANSAS CITY — The Cowley College volleyball team has learned that the challenge of defending a national championship, however daunting, has no set approach.
Consider the Tigers quick learners.
“There’s definitely a little bit extra anxiousness added on there with defending a title, but this is a special group,” Cowley coach Jennifer Bahner said. “It’s been a fun year watching them connect and bond with each other … I give our sophomores a lot of credit on showing the freshmen how to do things.”
Cowley, the defending NJCAA Division II champion, is 33-0 this season and on a 55-match winning streak. The Tigers have beaten nine ranked teams and also have arguably the best player in the nation, 6-foot-2 outside hitter Martyna Gluchowicz, the reigning Jayhawk East MVP.
The Tigers host the Region VI District M regional on Saturday, facing Hesston (19-13) at 10 a.m., followed by No. 15 Butler (31-6) against No. 12 Johnson County (27-5) at noon.
The two semifinal winners play for the region championship one hour after the Butler-Johnson match with a trip to the national tournament in Toledo, Ohio, on the line.
“I wish we could play tomorrow,” Gluchowicz said on Wednesday. “I’m pretty confident in this team.”
Butler visited Arkansas City on Sept. 19 and won the first two sets before Cowley stormed back to win three straight for the victory in front of a sold-out W.S. Scott Auditorium.
“It was the first time in four years here that I’d seen our place completely full,” Bahner said. “We’re trying to get it that way again (for regionals).”
Gluchowicz, from Krzyzanowice, Poland, leads the Tigers with 366 kills and has narrowed her college choices to Florida Gulf Coast and Florida International.
Freshman setter Katelynn Slade, a Rose Hill product, averages 12 assists per set and has been the key to running Cowley’s 5-1 offensive set.
“We knew (Slade) was a great kid when we recruited her,” Bahner said. “She’s the quarterback out there for us, where our setter runs the whole offense. It’s a great achievement for her.”
Both Bahner and Gluchowicz said Slade, the niece of Rose Hill football coach Greg Slade, has thrived under the pressure of going for a second straight national title.
“It’s been kind of crazy at times,” Slade said. “But I’ve enjoyed it all. The pressure, the stress, the success all kind of goes together.”
Bahner, 28, came to Cowley three years ago after a stint as an assistant at Pittsburg State. In her first season, the Tigers were national-runner up, then finished third in 2011.
“We try as much as we can to talk about recovery,” Bahner said. “Mistakes are going to be made, so how do we recover from them? That’s what will make the difference.”
NJCAA Division I at Newman -- The Region VI tournament for NJCAA Division I teams will be Saturday and Sunday at Newman. No. 17 Hutchinson (24-8) plays Barton (13-18) at 10 a.m. on Saturday, followed Dodge City (15-23) against Garden City (20-18) at noon. The Hutchinson-Barton loser plays the Dodge City-Garden City loser at 2 p.m. and the Hutchinson Barton winner and the Dodge City-Garden City winner play at 4 p.m. Winners advance to play for the title on Sunday.