2004 Volleyball Season Recap
When the smoked cleared and the 2004 season was complete the University of Northern Colorado women's volleyball team had put together another 25-win season (and 88 total wins in three years), finished in a tie for first place at the Division I Independent Championships and made history along the way by breaking individual and team records in their second year of reclassification to Division I. The year may be best remembered, however, as the final season of competition for All-American outside hitter Erin Deffenbaugh, arguably the greatest volleyball player in school history, if not the greatest female athlete ever.
Deffenbaugh, who already held almost every school record entering the season, finished her career ranked No. 1 in NCAA history in career attempts (6,465) and No. 3 in NCAA history in career kills (2,529), earned Division I Independent Player of the Year honors and was a first-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American, the first-ever Division I first-team selection in school history. She also earned Volleyball Player of the Year honors from the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and the Sportswomen of Colorado.
The early road was tough for the Bears, who finished 32-2 and with a 26-match winning streak to close the 2003 season, as the schedule was much harder than the previous year and one of the toughest the program had ever faced. That fact became reality in the season-opener, as the Bears blew a 2-1 lead at New Mexico, losing 3-2 to the Lobos at the Comcast Lobo Invitational and seeing the school-record 26-match win streak come to a crashing end. With the streak over, however, the Bears did not let that dampen their spirits, as they defeated Creighton (3-1) and Montana (3-2) to close out the event and finish in a tie for first before losing out a tiebreaker to finish second. Deffenbaugh was named MVP of the event after averaging 4.79 kills and 2.29 digs per match and registering 25 kills in two of the three matches.
UNC played in front of nearly a thousand fans at home on Sept. 7, hosting Wyoming in the home-opener, in the first meeting between the Bears and Cowgirls in 21 years. Northern Colorado came ready to play and put the Wyoming away in straight sets, ending a six-match winning streak in the series for UW in what was the 300th match played inside Butler-Hancock Hall.
Trips to the Portland State Viking Volleyball Showcase and the BYU/Utah Challenge over the next two weekends left Northern Colorado with a 5-5 record following 10 matches. The four losses over the span were all to quality opponents (Oregon, Gonzaga, BYU and Utah) but left the team searching for an identity and looking to not drop below the .500 mark for the first time in four years.
And respond the team would, as Northern Colorado would win 20 of their final 24 matches on the season to notch 20-plus wins for the 22nd time (in 29 total seasons) in school history.
The winning started with a four-match homestand as the Bears took care of in-state rival Metro State before hosting the Best Western Regency Northern Colorado Classic, the first in-season tournament the team had hosted in 11 years. At the tournament, the Bears swept by fellow Division I Independents Texas-Pan American and North Dakota State in the first two matches before challenging Robert Morris, a 2003 NCAA Tournament participant, in the finals. The teams split the first two sets before the Bears pulled away to win the championship at their own event. Deffenbaugh earned her second tournament MVP honors of the year by averaging 5.30 kills and 3.60 digs/game while senior Maggie Ledall (4.20 kills/game) and junior setter Corrinne Chapin (15.00 assists/game) also earned All-Tournament honors.
Another rare 3-0 loss was next for the Bears, as Wichita State (who advanced to the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament) swept the Bears, marking only the third time an opponent had done that during the Ron Alexander Era. But the road trip was salvaged with a 3-0 win over UMKC. The second matchup of the year with Air Force was next, as the Bears hosted the Falcons at Butler-Hancock Hall. This time around the match was not as easy for UNC, as the Falcons took the Bears to a fifth set, the first time an opponent had done that at Butler-Hancock in 17 matches. Northern Colorado would score 10 of the first 12 points in the decisive set on the way to the 3-2 win.
That home match would be one of the last for awhile, as the Bears would play nine of their next 10 matches on the road. The trip did not start the way they would have hoped, dropping a 3-1 decision at former North Central Conference rival South Dakota State, in the first meeting between the teams since the 2002 NCAA North Central Regional Championships, a match that the Bears won on their way to the Division II Elite 8. UNC then swept by North Dakota State for the second time during the season before returning home to host the Jackrabbits in a rematch. This time the home-court proved to be too much once again, as Northern Colorado bested the Jacks 3-2 (15-12 in the fifth set).
That win sent them back onto the road, where they won four matches in-a-row and dropped only one set in the process. The Bears dropped a tough 3-2 decision to a good Wisconsin-Milwaukee team (a Panther team that was in the 2003 NCAA Tournament) before beating Weber State and Utah Valley State to conclude the seven-match road swing 6-1.
Fresh off a tough 3-2 victory over UVSC, the Bears hosted the Wolverines on Senior Night at Butler-Hancock Hall a week later. The night was emotional as Deffenbaugh, Ledall and Danelle Angus played their final matches in front of the home crowd. A crowd of 1,065 fans (the fifth largest in Butler-Hancock history) came to witness the event and see history as Deffenbaugh passed North Alabama's Ronda Price to become the NCAA's all-time leader in career assists. She also recorded 22 kills in just three sets as the Bears swept by Utah Valley to win at home for the 29th straight time, a streak that is second nationally to only the University of Hawaii (37) among Division I schools. Overall, the Bears finished their third straight season of being undefeated at home and need only four wins at the beginning of 2005 to tie the school record for consecutive matches won (33).
That left the Bears with only six matches until the end of the season and a chance for them to defend the Division I Independent Championship they won a year ago in Fort Wayne, Ind. This time the scene shifted to Orem, Utah and the campus of Utah Valley State. And after day one the Bears looked to be on their way to a second straight title. They opened the tournament with a sweep of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and ran by what was presumed to be their toughest competition, IPFW, 3-1.
But day two proved to be a different animal for UNC. The Bears fell behind to South Dakota State 2-0 but rallied to even the match at two and force a fifth set. That set was close but the Bears eventually lost 15-11 and fell to 2-1 at the tournament as SDSU was put in the driver's seat for claiming the title. Northern Colorado had to win out and hope for some help to claim their second straight title and they struggled in the nightcap, having to go to five sets before defeating North Dakota State, a team they had swept twice previously during the season. That match marked the 100th match for Alexander as coach at Northern Colorado. The Bears swept Texas-Pan American to begin day No. 3 (their 56th sweep in the past three years) before having to face the host Wolverines for the third time in the last three weeks.
The Bears needed a sweep of the Wolverines in hopes of a share of the tournament title, but Utah Valley claimed game No. 1 30-27 to end the team's chances of winning their second straight crown. But the team did not give up, as they won the next three sets in convincing fashion and Deffenbaugh recorded 27 kills to move into third place on the NCAA all-time kills list. Deffenbaugh and Ledall were named to the All-Tournament team as the Bears tied for first overall, but lost a three-way tiebreaker with South Dakota State and IPFW, as the Mastodons were crowed champions for the second time in three years.
Ledall also made history in that final match, registering 13 kills to increase her career total to 1,011, as she became the 12th member of the Northern Colorado 1,000 kills club. After having back-to-back amazing hitting seasons, Ledall finished her career with a .338 hitting percentage (1011k-290e-2134a) which shattering the previous school record of .327 (held by Julie Colville). Ledall earned first-team All-Independent honors for the second consecutive year after leading the team in hitting percentage (.395), a mark that ranked 10th nationally.
Joining Deffenbaugh and Ledall on the All-Independent first team was Chapin, who earned Setter of the Year honors. During the regular season, Chapin earned Setter of the Week honors five times (out of 10 total weeks) and dished out 1,683 assists (12.85/game), the fourth-highest single-season total in school history, all of this in her first year as a starter. Angus, who averaged 2.63 kills/game and hit .306, was a second-team All-Independent selection; she finished her career fifth all-time block assists (300) and sixth in total blocks (338).
The Bears, who were 25-9 overall, finished the season 13-2 overall against Division I Independent teams and will return 10 players from this year's team in 2005, as the team will once against play against a tough schedule. They will end the season by hosting the 2005 Division I Independent Championships at Butler-Hancock.