The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team have a little bit extra to play for now that the NJCAA national polls were released Wednesdaymorning.
The Cougars, who were 33-8 a year ago, enter this season ranked fourth in the pre-season polls.
The high ranking came somewhat of a surprise to head coach Binny Canales, but said it is an honor for his team.
“It is a huge honor. There are a lot of good teams out there that are returning good players,” Canales, who is beginning his fifth season at WNCC, said. “It is a big honor.”
This is the fourth straight year that the Cougars have been ranked in the top five in the preseason top five. The team was ranked number one in the pre-season in 2006 and 2015. WNCC has been in the top five in 13 of the last 14 years.
“We are used to that [target on our back]. We are used to everyone gunning for us and we just have to rise to the occasion,” Canales said. “We have to keep getting better at a good pace and stay realistic with our goals. We have to stay patient and take it one step at a time.”
Returning sophomore Sarena Bartley said it isn’t a surprise that they are ranked that high.
“Not surprising. We can definitely do it. Fourth is great. It is not 20th, but we are in the top five,” Bartley said. “It gives us huge hope, huge motivation for us to do better. It makes us want to do much more than what we can do. It will help us to work harder to achieve that and to get first this year.”
Defending national champions Miami Dade tops the pre-season charts with the College of Southern Idaho and Iowa Western at second and third respectively.
New Mexico Military, the team that defeated the Cougars in the first round at nationals a year ago, enter at number five. Rounding out the top 10 are Tyler Junior College, Polk State, Mineral Area, Seward County, and Hill College.
Laramie County Community College is the other Region IX team in the polls, coming in 12th.
Canales said the ranking should be something to build upon.
“Hopefully it [the ranking] does,” he said. “Hopefully it is something to build off of. We have a good recruiting class and some good returning players. We just need to keep getting better.”
WNCC returns six players from a year ago and has eight newcomers. After a slow start, Canales and Bartley said things are starting to pick up. The Cougars split a pair of scrimmages last Saturday, beating Metro State and falling to Nebraska-Kearney.
Bartley said the team is coming around.
“The team is looking good this year,” Bartley said. “At first it was like the individuals playing here and there. We have been practicing a lot and communicating. We have been more of a team these last few weeks. I am pretty excited for this year. This year will be my sophomore year, my last year here. I am excited to play all these good teams and go to Iowa Western soon and play them.”
The Cougars scrimmaged Eastern Wyoming College Wednesday afternoon and they have an alumni scrimmage at 2 p.m. on Saturday before opening up the season for real August 24 and 25 at the Reiver Invite in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The team’s first home contest is Aug. 29 when they host No. 12 Laramie County Community College at 7 p.m.