By Randy Speer, Reporter
The emotional Raven roller-coaster finally ground to a halt against Graceland in Saturday’s HAAC opening round in Lamoni, Iowa.
The Yellow Jackets returned the favor of a sweep with one of their own. The Ravens toppled Graceland in its conference home opener in straight sets.
But Benedictine faced a different Graceland team than they saw two months prior. In the first meeting, BC put Graceland away quickly and never let them get into the match. This time around, it was a back-and-forth battle. The Yellow Jackets pulled away late to take the first set, 25-20.
“Graceland is playing really well as a team,” said head coach Erin Cooper. “They have a veteran squad; there is some experience on the floor at all times.”
The second set was similar, but the Lady Ravens were unable to overcome Graceland once again. The second set concluded 25-20 in the home team’s favor.
“[Graceland] completely had a 180,” said freshman Elise Fulcher. “We played the best that we could, it just didn’t work out in our favor.”
Benedictine continued to battle, but was overpowered for a third time, 25-22. BC led for a large part of the final set, but fell short.
Senior Patricia Moura recorded 10 kills in her final game as a Lady Raven. Senior Emilee Clark had 23 assists.
The season was cut short of a return bid to the conference semifinals. Even with this postseason loss, the Lady Ravens finished 19-14 (4-5 HAAC), the first winning season in five years.
“I feel like this team has a sour taste in their mouth at the end of the season, and there is absolutely zero reason for that,” Cooper said. “We made one of our goals, and one of our goals was to have a winning season. This group of seniors needs to be proud of that in the sense that they are pioneering this whole entire transition.”
This team stamped its name into the record books. It will go down as the team with the highest total digs, block assists and total blocks. In addition, they’re second in kills and assists.
The seniors played a major role in that. They accounted for 62 percent of the team’s kills. Moura and fellow senior Ashley Gray were first and second on the team in kills. They had 277 and 235, respectively. Senior Karlie Dalton also added 228 kills, finishing one kill short of 800 career kills.
Clark set up most of the attacks. She had 907 assists this year and finished her career with 2,837 assists as a four-year starter.
“Clark had a great year,” Cooper said. “Her career here has been good.”
Cooper is interested in watching the transition from Clark to Taylor Garner, who saw playing time throughout the season as a freshman and is likely to assume the setter role.
The future looks bright for the Lady Ravens. Although they will have to fill the gaps left by graduating seniors, they have the talent to do so.
Fulcher, Garner and Jamie Navinskey are three freshmen who saw playing time this year.
“We got some vital experience for some of the underclassmen, Elise, Jamie and Taylor all saw the floor a lot, which will help us in future years,” Cooper said.
Fulcher couldn’t agree more and was grateful for the year she had on the varsity team. She finished her first season with 162 kills and a record 10 blocks against Mount Marty on Sept. 9.
“Jamie, Taylor and I have been so blessed to be on varsity,” Fulcher said. “We have learned so much and I know the girls on JV have as well.”
Two other returners to look for next season are sophomore Camila Araujo and junior Sabra Boes. Araujo notched 123 kills in her first season as a Lady Raven. Boes came on as a defensive specialist intermittently this season.
The season didn’t end where the Lady Ravens wanted, but it gives them a foundation for the future.