TWIN FALLS — Thoughts of perfection didn’t creep into the CSI volleyball players’ minds until it was right in front of them.
The Golden Eagles played five matches at this weekend’s Starr Invitational, and they swept the first four. They had to beat a good team to sweep the tournament, and they put pressure on themselves to get it done.
Nothing stood in CSI’s way.
The Golden Eagles swept Yavapai College and Hutchinson Community College on Saturday to finish their first home action in flawless fashion. The No. 6-ranked team in Division I of the NJCAA made the ranking look low this weekend.
“It’s a little personal goal for the team — don’t drop a set on our home court, and make a statement to the country,” CSI sophomore outside hitter JoJo Kruize said.
The first set against Yavapai — of Prescott, Arizona — wobbled back-and-forth, and CSI held on 25-22. The Golden Eagles gradually pulled away in the second set and were never in serious jeopardy, winning 25-19. The third set was all CSI — 25-13.
Although Yapavai competed, it didn’t enter Saturday with the same resume as Hutchinson. The Dragons were 7-3 entering the CSI match, and they swept Salt Lake CC — CSI’s Scenic West Athletic Conference rival — on Friday.
SLCC’s star outside hitter Aubrie Steiner missed Friday’s match due to an injury, but Huthinson’s sweep still grabbed CSI’s attention. SLCC was ranked No. 4 in the latest NJCAA Division I poll.
“It was really important that we get it done in three,” Cartisser said. “Show that, hey, the team that’s fourth in the country gets beat, we’re gonna gonna step up and get this done in three.”
Hutchinson played right with CSI in the first set. A 5-0 run gave the Dragons a 15-13 lead and prompted Golden Eagles head coach Heidi Cartisser to take a timeout. CSI went on a 3-0 run to retake the lead.
The Dragons never went away in the 25-23 loss, but 15-14 was also the last time it held a lead in the set.
Like the Yavapai match, the Golden Eagles’ second set against Hutchinson was close early on, but they took control midway through and never let go. The final score was 25-18.
The third set also ended 25-18, but only a last gasp run from Hutchinson prevented a blowout. The Golden Eagles built a 21-7 lead thanks to a 16-3 run.
“I’m ecstatic,” Cartisser said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been able to win out and not drop a set. I’m really excited about this team.”
CSI freshman outside hitter Airi Miyabi notched a team-high number of kills in each match — 13 against Yavapai and 15 against Hutchinson. Kruize had 21 total kills on Saturday, and she led the Golden Eagles with four aces, three against Hutchinson.
Assistant coach Jim Cartisser worked with Kruize on adding a jump serve last year, she said. Over time, she developed a difficult-looking serve that is equally devastating.
Kruize tosses the ball just below the rafters with loads of spin, and she leaps to hit it as it plummets back to earth. Her serve rifles over the net with powerful topspin.
“I started getting a little rhythm with it, and the coaches put the confidence in me to go back there and rip my serve,” Kruize said. “The high toss kinda gets people in a lull, so when the ball comes to them, they’re not ready.”
Kruize, Miyabi, Shiloh Peleras and Jovana Vukcevic all had big tournaments, and a key reason was setter Morgan Weatherwax. The sophomore dished out 38 assists against Yavapi and 45 against Hutchinson.
“She kinda keeps us all together,” Cartisser said. “I loved her decisions. I loved how aggressive she was at the net. She builds confidence within our hitters and our passers.”
Peleras had a team-high five blocks on Saturday, and sophomore libero Esti Wilson had 27 digs over the course of both matches.
CSI didn’t make it to last year’s NJCAA Division I championship. The tournament will be held in Hutchinson, Kansas, this November, and the Dragons will be there no matter how their season goes. Heidi Cartisser is confident her team will join them.
“We’re light years ahead of last year,” she said.
CSI (13-1) travels to Arizona for three matches next week. The first takes place Thursday night against Phoenix College.