PARK HILLS — The Mineral Area College volleyball program continued to reach new heights last season, posting 29 wins and advancing to its first Region XVI final before ultimately falling to rival Jefferson.

Five returning sophomores and a solid recruiting class approached this fall with greater expectations, and has produced a team-record 33 wins while building its strongest momentum over the past month.

“We had been working hard for the last five years trying to reach the level that we want to play at,” 6th-year head coach Tim Copeland said. “I thought we were really close last year, but fell one game short against JeffCo. We still accomplished a lot, though, and the sophomores coming back were hungry and excited about getting started again.”

The optimism and steady improvement culminated in the greatest stride to date last weekend, as the Lady Cardinals defeated the vaunted Vikings for the first time ever in a convincing 3-game sweep.

Their reward was the first region title in school history and an automatic berth in the NJCAA national tournament, which will take place at the same West Plains Civic Center where MAC celebrated their landmark win.

Mineral Area (33-5) drew the No. 12 seed in the 16-team field, and plays at 3 p.m. on Thursday against 5th-seeded Southern Idaho (22-10). Each team will enter that contest 12 days removed from its last competition.

Four of the Lady Cardinals’ five losses have occurred against ranked foes, including two previous battles with Jefferson and a neutral court setback to No. 6 tournament seed Iowa Western at the Kirkwood Classic.

“I thought we received nice respect and a good seed with this being our first time in the tournament,” Copeland said. “We just have to prepare for Southern Idaho like we do with other opponents and go from there.”

Sophomore transfer Hilary Trevino leads the Mineral Area attack with 365 total kills, and outside hitter Katarina Sretenovic has added 313. Middle hitter Meghan Dohogne leads with 99 blocks and Jami Jackson has tallied 93.

Setter Marija Jovanovic ranks seventh nationally in service aces per set and Sretenovic is 11th overall. Sophomore libero Brooke Williams averages 5.54 digs to rank eighth in Division I.

MAC has collected 11 wins over its last 12 matches, and perhaps none was more pivotal than a five-game victory over MSU-West Plains on October 24 after the Lady Cardinals rallied from two sets down.

“About three or four weeks ago, they really started to come together as a team and work even harder,” Copeland said. “They came back to beat West Plains in five here at home, and have been confident ever since. This is our first national tournament appearance, and we’re looking forward to it.”

The geographic span of the field ranges from Miami, Fla. to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and No. 1 seed Blinn College (34-0) is among four contenders from Texas. Of the 16 schools represented next weekend, Mineral Area has the shortest distance to travel from its home campus.

In addition, Williams played high school volleyball roughly an hour from West Plains in Eminence, and outside hitter Bailey Layman graduated from nearby Liberty High School in Mountain View, Mo.

“We kind of have a home court advantage,” Copeland said. “We played there just two weeks ago, so we know the place pretty well. We’ll probably have 30 or 40 people coming to watch from parents to faculty to students, so we’ll enjoy having a cheering section.”

Sretenovic, Trevino and Jovanovic were recently named the All-Region XVI First Team. Williams and Dohogne were recognized on the Second Team.

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