SIOUX CITY, Iowa – In front of a sea of blue and orange, No. 12 Midland University volleyball battled No. 6 Missouri Baptist University in a five-set instant classic for a shot at the 2020 NAIA National Championship title. The Warriors fell just short of the victory, dropping the five-setter by scores of 25-23, 14-25, 26-24, 19-25, and 15-12 in Midland’s first national championship match in program history.
You couldn’t have scripted a more dramatic championship battle for the Warriors with the season concluding in the same matchup that kicked off this unprecedented year. 238 days have passed between Midland’s season-opener with Missouri Baptist and tonight’s national title match. Midland took the opener in a similar five-set thriller, but the Spartans were on the right side of history this evening inside the Tyson Event Center. Taliyah Flores, Maggie Hiatt, and Hope Leimbach were named to the All-Tournament Team at the conclusion of the match.
The match was a defensive juggernaut from first serve with extended rallies sucking in even the most casual of fans. Missouri Baptist came away with 97 digs and 19 blocks while Midland registered 85 digs to go along with five blocks. The Warriors hit .144 for the match compared to .251 for the Spartans. Senior Sydney Morehouse ended her career on a high note, pounding a career-high 21 kills to the floor to lead the team. Junior Taliyah Flores followed with 15 kills and 17 digs for her 16th double-double of the season. Senior Maggie Hiatt had 14 kills for her fourth double-digit kill performance of the tournament. Senior Jaisa Russell picked up a team-high 25 digs while senior Kaitlynn Simon followed with a career-high 20 digs. Hope Leimbach dished out 59 assists to go along with seven digs.
Set One (25-23)
The Spartans had a 4-3 advantage before a solo block from Midland’s Hope Leimbach brought the set back to even. The scoring run continued as a monster rally ended in a point for Midland, forcing the match’s first timeout with the Warriors ahead 7-4. The Spartans managed to side out with a shot down the line, but Sydney Morehouse countered with her first kill of the match to keep Midland ahead. Lauryn Samuelson got in on the action with a kill out of the middle to push the lead to 11-6. The Spartans countered with two points before an authoritative swing from Maggie Hiatt had the lead at four points. Missouri Baptist fought to get within striking distance, but a quick out of the middle saw Midland up 15-12. Fredrickson read a setter dump perfectly, setting up Hiatt for a kill to bring the lead to 17-15. An ace from Maggie Sempeck followed, bringing renewed energy to a contingent of fans behind the baseline. The Spartans rattled off a few courtesy of Midland errors, pulling within one at 19-18 to force a timeout. The Warriors earned a quick point out of the break, but the Spartans found the next to two to tie the set at 20-20. Midland won the next three off swings from Samuelson and Flores to cause a timeout. Midland won a seemingly endless rally at set point to come away with an exhilarating 25-23 win.
Defense stole the show in the opener as the teams combined for 71 digs. Jaisa Russell came away with 10 while defensive specialist Kaitlynn Simon had nine. Flores and Morehouse each had four kills as the team hit .143. The Spartans hit at a nearly identical .145 with four total blocks.
Set Two (14-25)
Missouri Baptist came out with renewed energy, taking a 5-2 lead before a kill from Morehouse had Midland down a pair. The Spartans took an 11-6 lead on a sharp shot cross-court to force Midland’s first timeout of the set. MBU came out of the break with a roll shot kill and found another point on a Midland error to grow the lead to 13-6 before a Hiatt kill stopped the bleeding. The Spartans went back to work, using a steady block to extend the lead to 15-7. Missouri Baptist was finding success with every shot in the tool belt as a tip left-front fell for a 17-8 lead. Midland came out of a timeout with a perfect give and go to Morehouse as the senior’s seventh kill had things at 17-9. The Spartans continued to side out at a high level, not allowing for any Midland scoring runs as the score drifted to 21-11. Missouri Baptist sliced a kill down the line for set point, but Hiatt extended the set with a kill through the block. The Warriors showed fight through the closing parts of the set, but a solo block for the Spartans ended the set at 25-14.
Missouri Baptist hit an eye-popping .583 in the set with just one error on 24 swings. Midland was held to a .156 percentage. Morehouse had eight kills on 21 swings (.381) through two sets. MBU was out blocking Midland 8-1 through two sets.
Set Three (26-24)
The Spartan block continued to frustrate the Warriors as a pair of rejections opened the third. Flores responded from the early woes with a wrist-away shot to tie the set. Fredrickson followed with a commanding block, and Russell served her first ace of the match for a 4-2 MU lead. Missouri Baptist quickly answered back to take a brief lead before a Flores kill beat the defender down the line for a 6-6 score. Leimbach used all of her 5’4″ frame to win a joust at the net for a 10-7 Warrior advantage. MBU closed in on the Warriors trailing just 12-11 before Flores’ 10th kill of the night found the floor. Morehouse dropped in a finesse shot to send the Warriors into the media timeout with a 15-13 edge. Midland’s lead grew to 18-15 after a Spartan hitting error, but a side-out kill on the right side cut the margin to two. MBU’s fourth hitting error of the set brought the score to 20-18, but a run from the Spartans tied it at 20-20. The score reached a deadlock again at 21-21 before an overpass kill from Morehouse had the Warriors ahead. The Warriors pushed ahead with two-straight to force a Spartan timeout at 23-21. Much like the first set, MBU responded with a pair to tie the score at 23-23, forcing a Midland timeout. The Spartans won the first point out of the timeout, taking a 24-23 advantage, for another Midland timeout. Flores and Hiatt each picked up kills out of the break to give Midland set point and force a Spartan timeout. Morehouse didn’t wait long to pick up her 14th kill of the match, sending down an overpass to secure Midland’s 26-24 win.
The Warriors rebounding with a .269 hitting percentage in the set behind 21 kills. Missouri Baptist hit .278 with 14 kills. Morehouse continued to lead the Warriors with 14 kills while Flores followed with 11 through three sets. Four Warriors had double-digit digs with Russell’s 16 leading the way.
Set Four (19-25)
Missouri Baptist burned an early timeout when Fredrickson and Morehouse combined for a huge block at the net for a 3-2 lead. The lead continued to grow with a kill from Flores and Russell ace bringing the score to 6-3. The Warriors continued to roll, ending another long rally with a kill and following with an ace to force another timeout at 10-5. The Spartans earned four straight points out of the break before an error got the Warriors back up by two at 11-9. Missouri Baptist would then go on a run to pull ahead 15-14 and force a Midland timeout. The Spartans continued to surge ahead, finding a 17-14 advantage before an off-speed shot from Fredrickson ended the run. The Warriors struggled to find an answer for the spread offense on the side of the Spartans, going down 19-15 to bring on the second timeout of the set. Missouri Baptist scored its seventh in a row on a service ace, but a kill from Flores ended it with Midland down 20-16. Midland committed a service error to give Missouri Baptist set point, and the Spartans took the set by a score of 25-19 after a kill out of the middle.
Midland was held to a .053 hitting percentage through set four compared to .270 for the Spartans. Missouri Baptist continued to out-block Midland with a 15-3 advantage through four sets. Morehouse led Midland with 18 kills to go along with two blocks. Russell had 21 digs and two aces heading into the fifth.
Set Five (12-15)
The opening point of the fifth set lasted nearly a minute before Midland misfire had MBU up 1-0. Midland responded with a block from Morehouse to tie it. The teams continued to trade points with the score moving to 2-2 off a service error on MBU. The Spartans saw a 5-3 advantage with a kill off the block, but Hiatt answered with her 14th kill of the match to pull within one. The Warriors continued to stay in the match as a kill from Samuelson had the score at 6-5. Missouri Baptist scored a pair of points to take an 8-5 lead heading into a timeout on the floor. The Spartans earned two points out of the break, going up 10-5, to bring on a Midland timeout. Fredrickson found a kill out of the break to give Midland the ball, but a service error had MBU up by five again. The Warriors rattled off a pair, capped off by a huge kill from Morehouse to cause a Spartan timeout with the score at 11-8. Morehouse earned another out of the break to pull her team within two, but a Spartan block ended the run. The momentum quickly shifted to the side of the Spartans as a 13-9 advantage led to another Midland timeout. Two quick points had Midland down 13-11, but the Spartans saw match point as a block from Hiatt went just wide. The senior responded with another stuff to extend the match, but the relief was short-lived as a roll shot found the floor to end the set in a 15-12 score.
Comments from Coach
“There’s nothing to hang our heads about here,” said head coach Paul Giesselmann. “When you consider that there are 240 plus NAIA programs, and it came down to just two of us, how can you be anything but proud?”
“We would’ve liked to have won. But in the end, whether the trophy says ‘Runner-Up’ or ‘Champion’ isn’t going to define who they are or what these women have accomplished this season.”
“This season we reached our third Final Four in five years. I’d say we have an elite program, and this senior class is a big part of it.”
Season in Review
For programs across the country, it has been a year that could never be replicated. The season began 261 days ago when the heat of the summer was welcomed by the air-conditioned comfort inside of the Wikert Event Center. The Warriors were steadfast in their efforts to contend for a title this spring, and the unselfish nature of this year’s squad paid dividends in the end. Midland’s run at the NAIA national tournament featured wins over No. 20 Rocky Mountain College, No. 4 Indiana Wesleyan University, No. 5 Northwestern College, and No. 1 University of Jamestown. The Midland University Volleyball senior class of Kaitlynn Simon, Jaisa Russell, Heather Bills, Megan Aultz, Sydney Morehouse, and Maggie Hiatt has left a lasting impact on the volleyball program that goes beyond their athletic abilities and will pave the way for future teams to reach great heights.