By Jim O'Hara
FRANKLIN SPRINGS, Ga. -- Even their head coach was pleasantly surprised at how well they did in a season of changes.
On Friday the Shorter volleyball team, who emerged as the second-best program in their first-ever year as a member of the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference, continue their quest to put an exclamation point on what they've accomplished when the Lady Hawks start the post-season competing in the National Christian College Athletic Association's Division I South Region tournament bring held at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs.
"I don't think anyone expected us to do so well," Jon Moseley, who is in his seventh season as Shorter's head coach saw the Lady Hawks post an impressive 22-5 overall record and a 12-4 slate in the GSC that put them second only to conference power West Florida, the nation's No. 17-nationally ranked program.
"Knowing who we didn't have back and the changes we had to make – to me it's pretty impressive what they've done."
In its second year of a three-year probation period associated with the transition to the NCAA, a process that prevents Shorter from playing in conference tournaments and post-season honors, but the thanks to the school's other newest affiliation with the NCCAA the Lady Hawks have life after the regular season.
Ranked No. 2 in the NCCAA national poll, Shorter heads to Franklin Springs as the region tourney's top seed and will play Friday night at 7 p.m. against the winner of the opening round matchup between Pensacola Christian and Point University of Atlanta. Host Emmanuel and Southern Wesleyan, a pair of Southern States Athletic Conference rivals of Shorter, round out the five-team field.
The single-elimination tournament ends Saturday with the consolation game beginning at 11 a.m. and the championship match starting at 1 p.m.
Should the Lady Hawks, who enter the regional riding a nine-match win streak, come away with the region title they will advance to NCCAA National Championship that will be held Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in Kissimmee, Fla.
"It won't be easy by any means," Moseley said about what's ahead for the Lady Hawks. "This weekend we have two good NAIA teams (Emmanuel and Southern Wesleyan) we know about and if you get by this round, you'll have a lot of powerhouse teams at the national tournament, especially from Southern California."
That NCCAA region contains three programs that, like Shorter, are in the transitional process of becoming an NCAA member and ineligible for the Division II playoffs – Fresno Pacific, currently ranked No. 10 in the Division II poll; Azusa Pacific, which edged out Shorter for last year's NAIA Director's Cup; and California Baptist, the defending NCCAA champions that is in its final year its probation period.
Moseley feels the Lady Hawks have a legitimate shot at making a run to the national tourney, knowing how prepared and focused the team was during what a season that was packed with challenges.
"This has definitely the toughest schedule we've had," the coach said. "You had to be mentally focused all the time."
The Lady Hawks capped the regular season last week with a 3-1 win over Christian Brothers, the team's ninth straight victory in a streak that started back in October when Shorter opened the run with back-to-back wins over cross-town rival Berry and former SSAC rival and four-time national champion Lee.
That consecutive earmark included shutouts of four GSC opponents – West Alabama, Alabama-Huntsville, Union and North Alabama.
Sadly, despite their solid second-place listing in the conference, the Lady Hawks are not eligible for the GSC postseason awards that are handed out.
"Being second is the only thing listed," said Moseley, noting that in addition to being absent from conference honors the Lady Hawks' individual numbers put up were not included in the GSC's weekly tally of statistics. "It's unfortunate because we could have had some players leading the conference in some of the statistics and had some in contention for post-season awards.
"But they made their statement with how they did," the coach said.
One clear example of one Lady Hawk who could have been the leader in the conference is senior setter Jordan Corder, who recorded 1,108, assists this season and is now the school's career record holder in that category with 4,281 helpers.
"To us, she the conference Setter of the Year," Moseley said of Corder. "She's probably as determined and strong-willed a player as anyone on the team and the team has shared that strong will."
Joining Corder as key contributors this season were several other Lady Hawks who combined to keep the program in a winning frame of mind.
"This team is good focusing on the task at hand. They haven't been looking ahead," Moseley said about how the Lady Hawks take the traditional one-game-at-a-time approach.
"This is a mature team," he added, "that takes care of opportunities."