POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - Grace’s volleyball team completed a week to remember on Saturday.
The Lancers defeated Mid-America Christian University 3-1 on the campus of the College of the Ozarks, winning the 2023 NCCAA national championship.
Grace only dropped two sets across five matches in the NCCAA National Championships, finishing the season with a 24-11 record under head coach Katie Hill.
The Lancers claimed the 18th national championship in school history; it’s the second volleyball national title after the Lancers won the NCCAA crown in 1995.
Alisha Leffring and Katie Swanson were named to the NCCAA All-Tournament Team after their strong play this week.
Jadyn Ross (11 kills, 18 digs) and Morgan Syoen (27 assists, 12 digs) posted crucial double-doubles as well in Grace’s gritty victory.
Grace’s offense was dominant in the match, finishing with 57 kills on a .217 percentage. The Evangels (25-13), conversely, had 48 kills on a .129 percentage.
The first set saw MACU take a slight early edge; the Evangels led 16-12 as Grace called a timeout.
Grace’s offense got hot then, scoring four straight points with two coming from Swanson.
The Lancers’ attack continued to sizzle as the set reached its end. Grace pounded out four more kills over the final six rallies, including two kills from Ross. Ross’s last kill lifted Grace to a 25-20 win.
The Lancers amassed an incredible 20 kills on just two errors in the set (.439 percentage).
MACU grabbed another early lead in the second set at 8-3. Before long, the Evangels boosted their lead to 15-9.
Grace rallied, however. Livia Tate and Swanson blocked back-to-back attacks, and Grace used an 8-2 run to level the score at 19-19.
But the Evangels executed late, winning four of the final five points to secure a 25-22 victory.
MACU looked to have momentum squarely on their side in the pivotal third set. The Evangels scored four of the first five points and pulled in front 12-4.
Not long after, Grace found itself in an 18-11 hole and at the risk of falling behind in the match.
But the Lancers made a match-defining run to seize control. Sahara Bee and Tate had two quick block points, and Emma Blackford aced.
A few plays later, Grace unleashed eight straight points to further stun MACU. Tate and Swanson registered two more block points, and Ross had two more kills.
The set ended with a block from Tate and Swanson as Grace won 25-21. Overall, Grace ended the third set on a 14-3 run.
The Evangels continued their trend of leading early, claiming an 8-5 edge to begin the fourth set. But Grace quickly countered with a 7-0 spurt to go in front for good. Blackford served another ace during the run, and Bee pounded out two kills.
Kills down the stretch from Cassadi Colbert, Ross and Bee put Grace on the brink of winning.
The championship point was clinched by a kill from Tate as Grace won 25-20, sending the Lancers spilling onto the court in euphoric celebration.
Leffring tallied 13 kills, 1 solo block, 2 block assists and 3 digs, and Swanson produced 11 kills, 0 attack errors (.500 percentage), 6 block assists and 3 digs.
Tate amassed nine block assists with five kills, Colbert had eight kills with four digs, and Bee added 6 kills, 1 solo block and 4 block assists.
Blackford served up three aces with four digs, Syoen had 27 assists, 12 digs and 3 kills, and Riley Owens had 15 assists, 5 digs and 1 ace.
Liz Schmidt finished with a team-high 19 digs, and McKenzie Stakely totaled 13 digs.
Grace’s 24 wins are the most since 2014.
The Lancers have a bright future, returning the majority of their squad for next season.
No. 1 Lancers Tops SAU In Defensive Clash
WINONA LAKE - Grace’s men’s basketball, fresh off its new No. 1 ranking in the NAIA, battled by Spring Arbor 70-56 on Saturday.
The Lancers (9-0, 3-0 Crossroads League) continued their perfect start to the season thanks to a gritty defensive display.
Jakob Gibbs led Grace in scoring with 16 points in the physical battle, and Jake Wadding added 14 points.
Grace began the game slowly on offense, needing almost four minutes to score.
Jake Wadding opened Grace’s scoring with a 3-pointer, and Jakob Gibbs hit another triple a minute later.
With the score even at 10-10, Grace scored six unanswered points which was capped off with a trey from Ian Raasch.
The Cougars kept the score close, trailing by just two with 6:40 left in the half. But Grace was about to blow the game open.
The Lancers rattled off 18 consecutive points, charging ahead 38-20.
Wadding was a key figure during Grace’s run. The senior hit two more 3-pointers and muscled his way to a tough rebound putback to bring the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center crowd to its feet.
SAU scored in the final seconds of the half, but the damage was done. Grace raced into halftime with a 38-20 lead.
The Cougars were forced into 11 turnovers thanks to 10 steals from Grace. SAU shot just 36 percent from the floor and did not make a 3-pointer in the half.
Wadding had 13 points and three 3s in the half, and Brycen Graber racked up seven assists with three steals.
The Cougars battled fiercely in the second half, putting pressure on the Lancers.
Four minutes after halftime, the Lancers’ lead had dwindled to 10. Grace scored just three points in the first four minutes of the half.
The Lancers’ attack still sputtered five minutes later, allowing SAU to pull within five at 46-41.
But Brett Sickafoose came off the bench and immediately supplied an offensive spark. Sickafoose scored seven quick points, boosting Grace’s lead back up to 10 with eight minutes to play.
The Lancers’ defense refused to let SAU generate another run over the final eight minutes. Grace eventually closed the door by finding easier points down the stretch. An acrobatic putback layup from Ian Scott gave Grace confidence, and the Lancers also canned eight free throws across the final five minutes of regulation.
The Lancers eased away for the final 14-point margin of victory.
Jakob Gibbs’s team-high 16 points came with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots, and Wadding tallied 14 points, 6 boards and 2 assists.
Elijah Malone finished with nine points and seven rebounds, and Scott had eight points and five boards.
Cade Gibbs tallied 7 points, 2 steals and 2 boards, Sickafoose had seven points, Graber tallied 9 assists, 4 boards and 3 steals, and Carter Stoltzfus added 4 points, 3 steals and 2 boards.
The Lancers will hit the road on Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. game at Michigan-Dearborn.