The final point of the match and the season was a perfect set from sophomore Hazel Ortiz-Rosado to All-American Tathianna Cordero, who killed it to the left side of the court.
It was an appropriate exclamation point to the eighth-seeded Monroe Mustangs’ 3-1 defeat of No. 15 Moraine Valley from Illinois in the ninth-place game of the NJCAA Women’s Division I Volleyball National Championships, which took place last week in Perrysburg, Ohio, and a definitive stamp on their 37-7 record as Monroe’s best-ever volleyball team.
Ortiz-Rosado and Cordero were central figures in a talented group of sophomores who powered Monroe to their third-ever national tournament, where they went 3-1, helping their coach earn his 99th, 100th and 101st Monroe career victories.
“This is an amazing team and we had an amazing season,” coach Nephtali Delgado said. “There are hundreds of teams at this level who would want to be standing where we are today as the ninth-best team in the nation. I am proud. Very proud.”
Winning the final match was not easy, but, like the night before in Monroe’s defeat of Illinois Central, the Mustangs’ composure, talent and superior physical fitness carried the day.
They opened the final match against the Cyclones sluggishly, finding themselves down 1-7 and then 2-10 in the first set before they got into it. In fact, they made it as close as 14-15 and 19-20 before they succumbed in the first set, 25-20.
The second set was better as Monroe did what they had been doing all tournament long with impressive kills from the entire front line. Cordero opened with a pair to get the set started and then everyone got into the act, with sophomore Kimberlie Alvarado, freshmen Paola Noble and Lee Ann Ocasio and Ortiz-Rosado all getting in on it.
In the third set, freshman Edmarie Freytes had a service ace to give Monroe a 7-5 lead, the first of her four aces in the match.
Eventually, at the brink of defeat, down 22-24 and Moraine Valley one point from evening the match, Monroe again showed the resolve that made the 2013 Mustangs special. They got a kill from Cordero and a Moraine Valley error to knot the score at 24. Finally it was a kill from Noble that put set three away, 27-25.
In the fourth and final set, Monroe was down again and down badly. It was 11-17 before they slowly dug themselves out. Once more it was team play, with kills from Alvarado and Ocasio, and a couple of services aces from Freytes and freshman Shakira Lee Castro, that brought Monroe back to life.
A kill by sophomore Lilliana Gonzalez gave Monroe its first lead at 20-19 and the Mustangs went on to a satisfying, hard earned 25-21 victory in the season’s final set on the season’s final day.
After the match, Coach Delgado Reyes was besieged by several NCAA coaches wanting to know about the future of his highly-regarded sophomore class, and several onlookers remarked that, of all the players on all the teams in the tournament, Ortiz-Rosado might have been the most talented.
Certainly her numbers proved it. As she did throughout the tournament, in the final match she excelled in every facet of the game. She had a whopping 45 assists, four kills, three aces, and two blocks, one of them coming on the 24th point of the match.
Her performance earned her a spot on the All-Tournament team, the first Mustang to be so honored.
“I have never been with a team like this,” Monroe’s captain said. “I wish all the sophomores good luck in the future and, for you freshmen, take good care of our great coach. He and our school give you so much
support. Be grateful.” (Submitted)