Brescia University has broken all kinds of new ground in volleyball this season.
The Bearcats will be going to the NAIA national tournament for the second straight year, and this time with a first-year head coach in John Schmidt.
They finished the regular season 15-1 in the River States Conference and went into the conference tournament as the top seed. On the way to that, Brescia beat IU Kokomo for the first time. Winning the regular-season RSC crown earned Brescia the automatic NAIA national championship bid.
"I would say it was all a pleasant surprise," Schmidt said of the season. "Walking into it, you don't know who you have, what you have, and being from an NCAA Division I program, I didn't know what to expect here."
As the season went along, Schmidt thought this Brescia team could be pretty good.
"We realized we do have something here as long as we continue to grow and learn," Schmidt said. "We saw a lot of growth throughout the season."
Brescia is 27-7 overall and fell in the semifinals of the RSC Tournament to West Virginia Tech in five sets.
Brescia emerged with the best player in the league, with senior outside hitter Natalie Jones being named RSC Player of the Year after receiving the most votes on the all-conference team.
The former standout at Owensboro Catholic High School pounded out 417 kills and also collected 406 digs to lead the Bearcats to the RSC regular-season championship.
"For individuals to have success, it's a team effort," Schmidt said. "The girls deserve the recognition. It is a team effort, Brescia was preseason picked sixth and we won it all."
Jones had 36 kills in the semifinal match against WVT, and that was the highest number of kills in an NAIA volleyball match this year.
Setter Brittany Just was also on the first team. Libero Kristin Logsdon and middle hitter Shelby Hardison were second team all-conference from Brescia.
Schmidt was named RSC Coach of the Year after having a highly successful opening season with the Bearcats.
Brescia will be at Ottowa (Kansas) at noon Saturday in the NAIA national championship opening round.
"They're about the same size as us," Schmidt said. "Volleyball (styles) are a lot different west of here."
The 44-team event will get going with 12 national championship opening-round matches at campus locations on Nov. 23.
The top 19 seeds and championship host Morningside (Iowa) automatically advance to the national championship final site in Sioux City, Iowa, in early December.
Schmidt wants the team to look at the loss to WVT as another chance to learn and improve as Brescia heads to the national tournament.
"It's a blessing to be where we are," Schmidt said. "Going into the weekend, we have to get back to the ways where we were successful, not be content with the simple game we played last weekend."