The women’s volleyball team at Morton College certainly deserves top billing for the best “feel-good” story of the 2013-14 Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference season.
The Panthers, whose last and only women’s volleyball conference championship came in 1981, enter the Skyway season final day of play with a chance to go from worst to a tie for first when Morton College hosts nationally-ranked Moraine Valley at 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 22, in the Henry J. Vais Gymnasium.
No. 20 Moraine Valley is 6-0 in Skyway play, a game up on Morton College (13-13) and Waubonsee, both 5-1 in league action. The Panthers remained in the chase with a 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 win over Oakton October 15 at home. The win guaranteed the Panthers, 2-17 the last three years in league play, a home game for the first round of the Skyway postseason tournament Tuesday, October 29.
“We’re excited about our 5-1 record in Skyway play,” Morton College women’s volleyball coach Tom Malesky said. “We’ve beat some teams we’ve haven’t beat in some time. It’s nice to get over that hump. Plus, we’ve secured a home game for the first round of the conference tournament.”
The Panthers have done a good job winning the close matches – they’re 6-1 in games decided by three points or less. It falls into the theme of what Malesky has been promoting all season.
“We’ve been playing within ourselves and not trying to do things we’re not capable of,” said Malesky, who notched his 300th career win at Morton College October 8 against Lake County. “Everyone has a role and they’ve stuck to it. We’ve come back late in games – it’s something that we’ve seen since our season-opener in Danville.”
The Panthers feature a nice blend of returners and newcomers. Sophomore setter Samantha Rule, a two-year starter, is 41st nationally in assists at the NJCAA Division II level, while sophomore Patrice Silas has emerged at middle hitter. Melissa Villafuerte, another sophomore, leads the team in kills with 185.
“Sam has done a nice job setting for us,” Malesky said. “She spreads the ball around well. Patrice is much improved and plays with way more authority in the front row.”
Freshmen Cassie Tijerina, Yasim Lopez and Marlene Valadez are welcome additions. All three rank in Region IV’s top 30 for digs. Tijerina also is second on the team in kills.
“This has been a very enjoyable group to work with,” Malesky said. “They’ve shown a lot of heart and are extremely pleasant to be around.”