VOLLEYBALL: Aggies defeat Western for SBC title

Amber North

This was it.

This was the match that every Sun Belt Conference team wanted to win.

All 11 teams practiced since August to make an appearance in the Sun Belt championship, in hope of grasping the first place trophy.

But between New Mexico State and Western playing in Saturday’s championship match in Diddle Arena, only one of them would be the loneliest team at the top of the conference.

With one drop of the ball at match-point, a team’s hope of going into the NCAA tournament were shattered.

And the ball landed on Western’s side.

The Aggies celebrated their very first conference title while the Lady Toppers solemnly watched.

The two teams have been battling each other since last season, when Western defeated the Aggies in the championship match in Miami, Fla.

Aggie coach Mike Jordan and his eight remaining seniors dedicated their entire season to retaliate.

And they did, defeating the defending champions in four games (30-23, 28-30, 30-26, 30-27).

“Last year’s championship we were up 2-0, and they came back on us to win because they had more heart than we did,” Jordan said. “It was tough for us so we had something to prove.”

The Lady Toppers knew they might have to wait next year to gun for the NCAA again.

“Two championship teams were on the floor,” Western coach Travis Hudson said. “It’s a shame that one of us can only go on to challenge other teams (in the nation).”

With every ounce of perspiration dripping from each Lady Topper forehead, they played their hardest until the final point went to NMSU (30-4).

“I don’t think we played poorly – New Mexico State is very good and did a lot of things right,” Hudson said. “They’re a team of experienced kids, and it was a heavyweight fight. We just came out on the short end.”

And even though the two teams are tough competitors, they still have respect for each other.

“Travis is so sensational,” Jordan said. “We’d be great teammates if we were to put both of our teams together. We’d be one of the best teams in the country.”

Seniors Tracy May and Cynda Derbort, who had to wait three years to get their first conference title, ended their volleyball career at Western on a losing note.

But they didn’t see it that way.

“Today was very disappointing,” May said through tears Saturday. “But I’m not going to let it ruin our season.”

And Derbort said she felt like the team gave its full effort.

“In game four we felt that we were going to give it our all and earn a (game) win,” Derbort said. “We did a good job staying composed – we were a team of warriors.”

Hudson said that he doubts the team will get an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, but he isn’t doubting his players’ capability. The NCAA tournament selection show will air Sunday on ESPNews at 8 p.m.

“I’d like to challenge anyone to find 64 teams better than the two teams that played on this court,” Hudson said. “Do I think we’re one of the best 65 teams in the country? Yes.”

Junior Amanda Schiff and sophomore Jessie Wagner were named to the All-Tournament team, and Aggie Trinia Cuseo was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Although the Lady Toppers (28-7) will miss Derbort and May next season, they will have four returning seniors in Schiff, Amanda Cecil, Ashly Miller and Lyndsey Broerman.

The list also includes reliable outside hitters Wagner and Crystal Towler as returning juniors.

That’s enough to keep Hudson positive about his team’s potential.

“We learned from this loss and will look at it as a lesson and will prepare for next year,” Hudson said.

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