by Katie Meinke

To be the best you have to beat the best, goes the cliche. The University of Northwestern — St. Paul Eagles did just that, upsetting the defending national champion and number one ranked California Lutheran College Regals in a 3-2 thriller inside Erickson Center.

Along the way to their first-ever Elite Eight apperance, UNW took out St. Norbert, UW-La Crosse, and top ranked Cal Lutheran. The Eagles fell earlier this year to La Crosse before beating them in straight sets last Friday night (photo by Micah Foy).

Along the way to their first-ever Elite Eight apperance, UNW took out St. Norbert, UW-La Crosse, and top ranked Cal Lutheran. The Eagles fell earlier this year to La Crosse before beating them in straight sets last Friday night (photo courtesy of Eagle 7 News).

The UNW athletic department has adopted the tagline, “Compete with Purpose,” encouraging athletes to compete at a level of sportsmanship and athletics that is God-honoring and used as a witness to competing teams, coaches and fans from around the midwest and the country.  The UNW volleyball team has taken this focus very seriously in preparing to host the NCAA tournament this weekend.

Senior Shanay Gondor shared thoughts on how the attitude of the team throughout her career has shaped them physically, emotionally and spiritually as they have prepared for a tournament like this.  “There is definitely an emphasis on physical development. We spend hours and hours working on skills and lifting and running both in and out of season, but interlaced into our practice time is also intentional devotional time,” Gondor said.  “Our coach assigns accountability groups that we meet with in both the fall and spring.  We set goals and seek to complete them.  We talk about vision and our testimony.  We battle through pride and selfishness as we strive to own the roles we have been given within the program.”

The Northwestern volleyball team advances to the Elite 8 with their win over #1 Cal Lutheran (photo courtesy of University of Northwestern).

The Northwestern volleyball team advances to the Elite 8 with their win over #1 Cal Lutheran (photo courtesy of University of Northwestern).

In preparation for the tournament, the UNW volleyball team spent time in prayer in each locker room and around Erickson and supplied devotional books to each player from other teams when they arrived for their practices Wednesday night.  Each member of the UNW team wrote letters to athletes from other teams encouraging them and showing hospitality as they compete at Northwestern this weekend.

“Over the last four years, I’ve been stretched and given leadership roles that have transferred into greater confidence outside of the sport,” Gondor continued.  “We often talk about volleyball as a vehicle within the program—a vehicle to shine for Jesus to opponents, a vehicle for humility, a vehicle for deep, God-honoring and church-edifying relationships, and a vehicle for greater intimacy within our relationship with Jesus.  I’m probably not even aware of all the ways God has used volleyball to reveal more of Himself to me.  It has been a great four years, and the legacy of the program and the experience I have had is a testimony to those who have worked to maintain the culture before me.”

The UNW volleyball team finished the regular season 8-0 in conference and 30-4 in their overall record.  Northwestern downed the St. Norbert Green Knights in straight sets in the first round, and then they did the same to UW-La Crosse in the second round, earning them their second trip in a row to the Sweet 16.

Photo by Micah Foy

Photo by Micah Foy

The third and final game at the Erickson Center featured the top team in the AVCA polls, the California Lutheran College Regals, taking on Northwestern. After the Regals took the first set UNW stormed back, taking the next two. As this dramatic season would have it, the fourth went to the visitors and prepared them for a fifth set epic.

Freya Hanson knotted things at 13 in the final set. One point later and two passing errors in a row from Cal Lutheran gave the Eagles a historic 16-14 win at Erickson Center as the student section rushed the floor.

Northwestern will play Eastern University on November 17th, with a place in the Final Four and national championship aspirations on the line.

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