Owens Community College came into the NJCAA Division II national tournament as the No. 12 seed.
They’ve secured themselves a final finish no worse than fourth.
Owens (37-9) upset No. 5 seed Kirkwood Community College in the first round and No. 4 seed Iowa Central in the quarterfinals to advance to the national semifinals to be held today at Owens where they will take on the top team in the nation.
The Express defeated Kirkwood out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in four sets: 21-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-20 earlier in the day Thursday.
The match against Iowa Central Community College, out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, was a tougher challenge for Owens. The Express won the first set 25-20 but dropped the next two 23-25, 26-28 before rallying to claim the last two sets 25-18, 15-8.
Against Kirkwood, Anthony Wayne graduate Molly Hilfinger had a team-high 47 assists, moving her to 1,396 for her career, just 82 away from breaking Cearra Barr's school record.
Lisa Urbanski, a Notre Dame graduate, had 39 digs.
“The team played hard all the way,” Owens coach Sonny Lewis said. “We knew it was going to be a tough battle. One of the teams we played earlier in the year (Kirkwood, a 3-2 loss on Oct. 18), but [today] we beat them.
“Our kids stepped up and played hard.”
The top 16 NJCAA Division II teams from across the country are competing in the double elimination consolation tournament. today, the tournament continues with losers’ bracket and national semifinal matches at 10 a.m., noon, 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Today Owens will play Cowley Community College, which made the trek up from Arkansas City, Kan. Cowley, the reigning NJCAA Division II national champion, brings a perfect 37-0 record into its match against the Express.
The tournament ends Saturday, with consolation bracket matches at noon followed by the fifth place match at 2:30 p.m., the third-place match at 4:30 p.m. and national championship match at 6:30 p.m.
While his team may be the underdog, Lewis and the Express maintain hope.
“Basically, you’re in the final four, anything can happen,” Lewis said. “Play the best you can, play as hard as you can.
“Playing at home can be an advantage, and hopefully it will be.”