They had to know they weren’t going to win.
It was as mismatched as mismatches get. UCLA, one of the elite brand names in college sports, against our Lady Demons of Northwestern State. Volleyball, a sport that UCLA didn’t invent, but has at times perfected.
Four NCAA championships, the last in 2011, attest to that. A dozen Bruins have played in the Olympics; four have brought home medals.
NSU has never had an All-American player since beginning the sport in 1973. UCLA has had two four-time All-Americans, dozens overall.
The Bruins have won 10 Pac 12 Conference championships. NSU has just seven winning seasons.
That’s overkill, yes. You get the gist.
Except Monday, the Lady Demons didn’t.
None of that history, none of those comparisons meant anything when the ball was served over the net for the first point in front of a record crowd of 1,232 people (mostly hundreds of screaming school children, cheering for NSU for as long as their little attention-spans would allow).
By Halloween, only a few of the kids will remember being there. But what they saw Monday from the Lady Demons was near-legendary stuff. I’ve watched NSU sports in person, with only a three-year gap from 1982-85, since arriving on campus in the fall of 1978. Cannot recall a more gallant, fearless performance, in any sport, at any time.
They should have played the theme from Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now,” when the Lady Demons were introduced.
Rocky did not win. Neither did Northwestern. The final score was 3-0, and you’d say, that’s not close. But it was.
First set: 25-23. Second: 25-17. Third: 25-22, after a 21-all tie.
If you had told me beforehand that the Lady Demons would score 10 points in any one of the sets, as a former NSU staffer and longtime supporter who’s seen many a match through the years, and knowing the stature of UCLA volleyball, I would have taken that.
But 20? Unthinkable. A 21-all tie? As likely as Donald Trump retiring from public life.
Does Monday’s incredibly competitive outing put this team in NSU’s history books? No. Does it indicate the Lady Demons will win the Southland Conference championship? No. Does it mean they’ll thrash Jackson State tonight at 6:30 in Prather Coliseum? No.
Does it mean that these young women, all but two of 15 calling the Lone Star State home, have hearts the size of Texas? Absolutely.
Coach Sean Kiracofe, himself a proud native Texan, has bucked the odds in his previous eight seasons, keeping NSU competitive in the Southland while facing Lone Star foes whose budgets are infinitely better and who are surrounded by volleyball hotbeds. His assistant is a transplanted Texan, a local now, Stacey DiFrancesco Aldredge, who grew up near Houston and has been either a star player or a loyal assistant coach since 2011.
They didn’t score a point Monday. But they, and their players, made a big one.
No. they didn’t win. But they certainly gave a winning effort, when nobody outside the NSU locker room could possibly have foreseen such a competitive contest.
They didn’t get embarrassed, not one bit, not for a moment. They did embellish their reputation, and earned respect from anyone watching, including those associated with one of the more storied programs in college volleyball history.
They believed in each other, and it showed. Well played, ladies. Well played.