College Volleyball: RCTC could be on collision course with Madison

Rochester Community and Technical College hasn't lost a volleyball match in nearly two months.

Rochester Community and Technical College hasn't lost a volleyball match in nearly two months.

The last time it happened was Sept. 20, at the Harper College Invitational in Palatine, Ill., against Madison (Wis.) College.

RCTC, 28-3 overall, is 15-0 since the loss to Madison. The Yellowjackets have swept 12 opponents and lost a total of six sets in that 15-match winning streak.

RCTC hopes to extend that streak to 18 this weekend.

If it does, it will hoist the NJCAA Division III national championship trophy on its home floor.


"It's a huge advantage," RCTC coach Amber Zitzow said of playing at home. "We can sleep in our own beds, practice and play in our gym, have our fan support with students and parents … it's a huge advantage."

The No. 1-ranked Yellowjackets are the No. 2 seed in the national tournament, which runs Friday and Saturday at the UCR Regional Sports Center on the RCTC campus.

The No. 1 seed? That is No. 2-ranked Madison (27-3 overall), the defending national champion.

The Yellowjackets and Wolfpack can't meet until Saturday, but neither team is looking that far ahead, not when faced with navigating a daunting eight-team bracket that features five of the top-10 ranked teams in the nation.

Madison faces eighth-seeded Fashion Institute of Technology (New York City) on Court A at 11 a.m. Friday in its opener, while RCTC faces No. 7 seed Davidson County Community College (Thomasville, N.C.) at the same time on Court B.

"We're looking at it just like we looked at our regional," Zitzow said. "We have to take it a match at a time. We play Davidson first, that's who we're worried about."

RCTC hasn't been threatened much over the past two months, but it did show its resiliency during the Region XIII-A tournament, in which it swept two matches, against Minnesota College Athletic Conference rivals MSCTC-Fergus Falls and Ridgewater College.

In a match on Nov. 1 that decided home-court advantage for the regional, Ridgewater led RCTC 24-20 in the third set, but the Yellowjackets rallied for a 30-28 victory to seal the match.


"The girls stayed patient and relaxed," said Zitzow, the MCAC South Division Coach of the Year. "They were calm and kept believing in the system."

Sophomores remember

The Yellowjackets have seven sophomores on their 13-player roster. Those veteran players remember the feeling of a two-point loss to Ridgewater in last year's regional final, a loss that kept RCTC out of the national tournament.

The Yellowjackets made it this year, for just the third time in program history, and first since 2000.

"We've been on a mission all season," Zitzow said. "The sophomores are hungry. They really want this.

"We had three losses this year, but we've been able to build on those. We've played some tough competition and put the girls in some tough situations, and they've responded well."

RCTC is led by former Rochester John Marshall standouts Brianna Atkins (589 kills, 44 blocks, MCAC Southern Division Player of the Year) and setter Amberlee Dunagan (1,088 assists). But it is much deeper than just two players.

In fact, defense may be the Yellowjackets' biggest strength. Cannon Falls native Natalie Reinardy, a sophomore hitter, leads the team with 548 digs, while another JM grad, Haley Lenz, has 502.


Other top contributors include Josie Hale (team-high 39 aces); Emily Kingland, who has a team-best 56 blocks; Byron's Danielle Adams, who is second on the team with 207 kills and Kalley Kendall, who has 132 kills.

"We pride ourselves on serve-receive and defense," Zitzow said. "You can't win without that. Haley and Natalie, they don't let a ball drop, and Amberlee, she's our quarterback."

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