A pair of five-set Friday victories sent the Lamar Community College volleyball team to the semifinals and a third-place finish at the Region IX-South Tournament last weekend in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
The Lopes eliminated Otero and McCook to reach their highest finish in at least five seasons.
"The finish was the product of the hard work and dedication these girls showed not only on the court in Scottsbluff, but in the week leading up to the tournament," LCC head coach Dante Geoffrey said. "We struggled in region play during the regular season but they didn't let that determine their fate this weekend. They showed the heart to fight regardless of the score and that pushed us to new heights."
Coming into the second day of the tournament, the Lopes were a combined 0-5 against McCook and Otero in 2017. On Friday, when it mattered most, Lamar went 2-0 against those foes.
Lamar avoided an early exit with a 22-25, 25-20, 14-25, 28-26, 15-10 win against third-seeded Otero Friday afternoon, then advanced to Saturday's semifinal with a 25-22, 24-26, 25-20, 23-25, 17-15 win against fourth-seeded McCook in the day's final match.
The Friday night win came less than 24 hours after the Lopes fell (20-25, 16-25, 25-23, 13-25) to McCook in round one. A McCook loss to Northeastern and Lamar's win against Otero set up a rematch, the fourth meeting of the season.
Mikovic led the Lopes with an all-around performance. The freshman outside hitter notched 24 kills, 15 digs, three service aces and two blocks.
Lamar's play was hardly a one-woman show, however. The Lopes hit .379 as a team and totaled 69 kills and 77 digs.
Srdanov had a season-best game with 15 kills and no errors for a .500 hitting percentage, plus 12 digs for the double-double.
Sophomores Jordan Graham (13 kills, .300), Star Hoskie (nine kills, .292) and Christina Potter (five kills, .333) all had outstanding performances to keep Lamar's attack effective and balanced regardless of rotation or personnel.
Sophomore Samantha Smith had 35 assists and 11 digs while Hoskie added 33 assists, 15 digs and an ace.
Sophomore libero Monea Ortiz led the team with 19 digs and tied Mikovic with three aces.
"When you fight but fall short against a team three times in a season, it can be hard to believe things will change, but this team relished another chance, especially in a do-or-die game like this one," Geoffrey said. "We never asked them to go out and win. We just demanded they fight and no matter what the outcome they would be able to hold their heads high walking off the court.
"They committed to that and it paid off in the most fulfilling way."
For the opportunity to earn their first win of the season against McCook the Lopes had to beat Otero for the first time since 2015.
The offense had its moments but it was Lamar's defense that exemplified the heart needed to extend the season.
The Lopes totaled 95 digs and 10 blocks in a match in which both teams hit just .126.
Hoskie led the Lopes attack with 21 assists while also keeping play after play alive with her team-high 23 digs. Smith earned a double-double of her own with 24 assists and 14 digs.
Mikovic led all players with 17 kills (.245) and matched her offense with 17 digs to go with two blocks. Her game-high four service aces came in four straight points to help the Lopes win the second set.
Lamar's season concluded with a three-set (17-25, 19-25, 20-25) loss to top-seeded and eventual region runner-up Northeastern JC.
Western Nebraska, the fourth-ranked team in the country and host school, won the Region IX-South title for the 19th consecutive year with a five-set win over Northeastern in the title match. The Cougars will represent the region at nationals Nov. 14-16 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Lamar finished 18-14 overall, a two-win improvement on 2016's 17-15 record despite a tougher schedule both in and out of conference play. Lamar was the only Region IX-South team to beat Northeastern in the 2017 regular season (LCC's first win over NJC in Sterling, Colorado), and only Western Nebraska accomplished that feat at the tournament.
"We are tremendously proud of how we fought hardest when it mattered most, how we embraced who and what we are rather than focus on what we're not, and how all our players -- especially these sophomores -- dedicated themselves to making this program better than it was the day they arrived," Geoffrey said.
All-Region and All-Tournament Team
Mikovic finished the tournament with 4.18 kills/set, a .278 hitting percentage, 3.29 digs/set,.53 aces/set, and earned a double-double in every match.
Smith finished with 5.35 assists/set, including seven per set in Friday night's win over McCook, and 2.53 digs/set.
Srdanov averaged two kills/set over the weekend, and was the best player on the court for much of Lamar's win against McCook. Her errorless performance, tenacious defense and solid serve-receive passing stood out in one of the tournament's most thrilling contests.