The Cougar volleyball program picked up its 15th American Midwest Conference (AMC) tournament crown in November. Columbia, which was ranked as high as No. 5 in the NAIA Top 25 Poll, ended the regular season with an amazing 36-3 record.
Coached by Melinda Wrye-Washington and powered by setter Luana Branco, kill specialist Maria Omondi, libero Tally Mattos and outside hitter Falvia Lino, the Cougars received an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa in early December 2008. The team kept up their torrid pace at the NAIA Volleyball National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, defeating first the University of Mobile then Dordt College. The Cougars, with a cumulative record of 41-3, were cooking.
They then played Azusa Pacific and lost a dismal three sets to one. In the game, the Cougars trailed much of the time, but never by much. The Cougars, however, were out of sync: outside hitter Flavia Lino was the only Cougar to hit in double figures with 19 kills.
The loss did not end Columbia's season; the Cougars still advanced into bracket play.
The season then ended as the Cougars fell to Georgetown (Ky.) College in five games by scores of 25-22, 23-25, 22-25, 25-21 and 16-18. Although they fell behind early, the Cougars got on track and came from behind to win game one. It was a different story in games two and three as the Cougars fell in both games, again not by much. Columbia came back to life in game four and for a good part of game five. The Cougars were up 14-12 in the final game before Georgetown tied it at 14. With the match on the line the two teams tied at 14, 15 and 16 before the Tigers took their first lead at 17-16. After a time-out called by head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington the Cougars kill attempt went long, giving Georgetown the victory.
It was a great season; the Cougars ended with an overall 41-5 record.
Two members of the 2008 squad have been named NAIA All-Americans, one to the Scholar-Athlete All-America team: Luana Branco and Flavia Lino were selected as All-Americans and Maria Omondi the Scholar-Athlete All-American. Lino was also honored for her performance at the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa last week, earning all-tournament team honors.
A junior outside hitter also from Sao Paulo, Brazil, Lino made her debut in Cougar navy and silver this season. Lino led Columbia with 708 kills for the season giving her an average of 4.5 per game. Lino also notched 270 digs on the season, logged 56 service aces and had 68 blocks.
This is the fourth time Branco has been named to the NAIA All-American team and the third time as a First Team All-American. She is the only four-time All-American in Cougar volleyball history. Omondi had a cumulative GPA above a 3.0 to garner her first scholar-athlete award, and has been named to the Academic All-Conference squad in each of her three seasons. Maria was also honored as a First Team All-Conference member this year.
Branco, who made her first appearance as a Cougar in 2005, was named the league's Setter of the Year as well as its Most Valuable Player, playing in 159 of Columbia's 162 games as the setter. Branco led the club in assists, recording 1,701 in 159 games for an average of 10.7 per game. Branco also posted 272, 55 service aces, 405 digs and 126 blocks.
Tally Mattos took home Libero of the Year honors and Flavia Lino Newcomer of the Year. Head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington was named the AMC Coach of the Year for the sixth time in her career at Columbia College.
Well done, Cougars!