The Pasco-Hernando State College Lady Quistas always participate in their regional tournament under head coach Kim Whitney. In her 12 years at the helm, they’ve never failed to qualify with a .500 or better record.
But, they don’t always win their region and qualify for the NJCAA Division II national tournament. Whitney’s teams had done it five times. And after a 1-3 start, and eventually a 5-4 mark, this year’s team didn’t look like the kind of squad that would make it six national appearances.
But, Whitney knew better.
“If they don’t see that tough competition, then it’s not going to really help them understand where they need to be,” she said about the early part of the season.
The coach deliberately scheduled challenging opponents right off the bat, in order to provide good tests and get a feel for where they stood against skilled teams. Taking some early losses can drive a team to work as a group and improve, Whitney said.
And, that’s what happened with the Lady Quistas.
After coming out of those early contests with a few wins and plenty of determination, they ramped things up as the season wore on. The squad went on a five-match winning streak. It won 11 of their final 16 regular-season matches and easily qualified for its tournament.
The early season challenges paid off for the team in North Carolina, site of their regional tournament for District P. They knocked off Brunswick, Cape Fear and Catawba Valley without dropping a single set, and breezed into the national tournament for the second straight year.
“We were really at the moment in our season where we were peaking,” Whitney said.
Then, it was on to Arizona for the national tournament. The Lady Quistas played well, but ran into a tough Lincoln Land team in their opening match and fell in four sets, eliminating them from the championship bracket.
The team had its chances in the match, Whitney said, but a few errors at inopportune times prevented it from gaining momentum. After an opening-set victory, the squad dropped the next three and was relegated to the consolation bracket.
At that point, many disappointed teams would simply pack it in and bow out with another loss. But, the Lady Quistas bounced back with a five-set victory over Muskegon Community College before losing to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and finishing at 11th place in the tournament.
Winning a consolation game might not seem like a big deal, but Whitney has been there enough times to know it matters. It demonstrates perseverance and determination and it gives younger players more experience, which is important as they take on leadership roles next season.
Players also showed their coach that they weren’t going down without a fight.
“They still fought through, and they pushed themselves to win that next match,” Whitney said.
Next season’s matches will feature new players, as they do every year. As a two-year college, athlete turnover is a regular part of the game. But, with some talented players returning next season, the Lady Quistas will build around a nucleus of experienced athletes. Whitney mentioned Nadine Mattmann and Danielle Christian as a pair of defensive standouts who will be part of the school’s run for a third-straight national tournament appearance.
She also credited her assistant, Brian Kachurak, for running things in the early part of the season while she was on maternity leave. The coaching staff and the players did their jobs, allowing Whitney to make a smooth transition back to the sideline, and eventual tournament victories.
As a competitive coach who brought the school a national title back in 2010, Whitney never likes to lose. But, she’s proud of her players and what they were able to accomplish on the court, and is glad to have reached the national tournament in back-to-back seasons.
“In coaching and in sports, in general, you always want to win. You want to get to the point where you’re at the end,” Whitney said. “But, I think that looking back, looking at our team and looking at what we went through, an 11th place finish is pretty good for us.”
Published December 2, 2015