The Mesa Community College volleyball team celebrates with the ACCAC Region I Division II championship trophy. The team now heads to the NJCAA National Tournament in Charleston, West Virginia.
Aaron Webster/Special to the Tribune

For the first time in 37 years, the Mesa Community College women’s volleyball team is heading to the

NJCAA National Tournament in Charleston, West Virginia.  

While this is the first time that the Thunderbirds have qualified for the tournament since 1980, it isn’t the only thing they accomplished in 2017. Head coach Megan Taylor captured ACCAC Region I Coach of the Year honors and her squad turned in a regular season record of 22-9.

Taylor, who is just in her second year at the helm of the program, said it is exciting to make it to the tournament.

“It’s pretty unique. Thirty-seven years is a pretty long time,” Taylor said. “And I’m really just happy for the girls. Them talking about being the group to do it, and to say it and then do it is a pretty big deal.”

The turnaround for Taylor’s squad started last year when she began as an interim coach before the season began, and she sat the returners and incoming freshmen down to find out what they wanted. When they came back with the expectation of wanting to be the team that changed the program around, Taylor went to work.

She said they changed as much as they could from day one, everything from the team culture to the day-to-day operations to what the team expected out of themselves. For Taylor, those changes came easy because of how her team bought into the new approach.

“They were in 100 percent,” Taylor said. “So, it made it easy to come in and make changes.”

They finished the 2016-2017 season with a regular season record of 14-10, becoming the first MCC women’s volleyball team to turn in a winning record since 2005 under head coach Tricia Melfy. With a slew of talented returners and a couple of four-year college transfers, a foundation was set for the coming year. The Thunderbirds built off of it.

They started this season off in California, defeating Grossmont, SD Mesa and Southwestern. During that three-game trip at the end of August, the Thunderbirds only lost one set, a 25-22 battle against SD Mesa. But one of the big signs that showed that the Thunderbirds may have the talent to actually be the team to make it to the National Tournament came on Aug. 30. They defeated Scottsdale Community College in a five-set battle to start off their conference schedule.

Then, two days later they had lost the first two sets of a match to Chandler-Gilbert Community College and were on the verge of losing their first match of the season. But behind a 14-kill performance from Jess Perry and a 13-kill performance from Indigo Elmore, the Thunderbirds stormed back to win the final three sets, 25-11, 25-20 and 15-10.

“I think we could see, from early on, the potential there,” Taylor said. “We saw the girls do somethings early on. Maybe we were down six points or a couple sets and they could come back and win, and I think that’s when we realized we could do it.”

The Thunderbirds stormed through the rest of the season, only losing back-to-back matches on two occasions and snapping off a six-game winning streak to end the season before losing the first game of the Region I Division II Finals to Scottsdale Community College. They ended up sweeping the Artichokes in the second match to capture the Region I Division II championship.

Now, the Thunderbirds will enter the 2017 NJCAA National Tournament as the No. 7 seed and will take on No. 10 seeded Iowa Central in their first match of the tournament. While change has been a major contributor to the rise of the women’s volleyball program at MCC, Taylor doesn’t plan to change a thing heading into their first National Tournament experience in 37 years.

“I think routine is really important,” Taylor said. “Then just the more info they know and what to expect I think the easier it is to not get overwhelmed by the situation.”

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