WEST PLAINS, Mo. • If the College of Southern Idaho volleyball team had a rough road to get here for the NJCAA Division I tournament, they sure aren’t showing it.

“It’s just part of the journey. I’m glad we had a flight mixed in. Usually it’s all on a bus,” sophomore outside hitter Emily Ottinger said about the near-19-hour trip from Twin Falls.

Mostly rested and with just an hour of on-court practice before today’s first round of the tournament, CSI came through Wednesday crisp and focused.

That’s the experience the Golden Eagles hope they can ride on to an unprecedented 10th championship. This is the first back-to-back nationals appearances for CSI in nearly 10 years, and eight holdovers from last year’s squad are here this week.

“I think it’s not that different for all the sophomores, because we were here last year, Ottinger said. “We know everyone’s got their eyes on us no matter where we are (in the bracket).”

Where CSI is, it hopes to finish: No. 1. The Golden Eagles are a household name in JUCO volleyball, owning more titles (9) than anyone else. Miami-Dade (Fla.), which isn’t here, has eight. No other current Division I program has more than two.

The quest begins with 16th-seeded Faulkner State (Ala.), a program with which the Golden Eagles aren’t familiar.

“Honestly, I prefer playing teams we haven’t seen before,” said libero Heather Meeuwsen. “That way you can just play and you can’t overthink things.”

CSI hasn’t overthought much since falling behind two sets to Salt Lake Community College in September. The Golden Eagles went into the locker room, figured it out, won the match and then routed North Idaho College in straight sets in their next match.

From there it’s been a buzzsaw to the national tournament, but things won’t be easy here.

Since CSI’s the top dog, on paper at least, it had the biggest following at Wednesday’s open practice.

“It’s flattering to get that kind of attention, but we know we’re going to get it no matter what because we’re always getting that attention,” Meeuwsen said, referring to the name-brand nature of the program. “We were happy to be out there and practice well, but not give them everything (in a scouting report). We’ve got to keep a little bit secret.”

If the top seeding wasn’t an indication, the secret will be out this afternoon. If CSI wins, the Golden Eagles will play the host, Missouri State-West Plains, or Hillsborough (Fla.) in tonight’s quarterfinal round.

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