The ninth-ranked Blinn College volleyball team is looking to get the same old results from an entirely new postseason tournament.
Blinn has won its conference tournament nine of the last 10 seasons, going on to capture the NJCAA championship twice in that span. But this year, the Region XIV Conference has opted not to hold separate four-team tournaments for Districts K and L. Instead, the two districts will play in an eight-team, four-day tournament in Baytown, with the two finalists representing Region XIV in the NJCAA Championships.
Blinn is looking to be one of those two teams after going 23-5 this season with an 8-2 record in conference play. The Bucs enter the Region XIV Tournament on a season-high eight-match win streak.
"We're excited about it and we feel like we're playing pretty well," first-year head coach Erin Mellinger said. "I don't know if we're playing our best because we are dealing with some injuries, but we are playing better. We've come a long ways in three months."
Region XIV promises to be home to one of the toughest conference tournaments in the nation. In addition to hosting the defending national champion Buccaneers, San Jacinto (28-1) is ranked No. 1 in the nation and Tyler (24-3) is ranked No. 6.
Paris, Trinity Valley, Laredo and Panola have all received votes in the national poll.
The Buccaneers have been led offensively this season by freshman middle blocker Bruna Evangelista, who has a team-high 200 kills (3.08 per set) on the season. Freshman outside hitter Tyanna Roy is second on the team with 147 kills (2.04 per set), while freshman middle blocker Emily Salter has added 106 (1.74 per set).
Freshman setter Crystal Young sets the tone for the Bucs with 619 assists on the year (8.25 per set).
Defensively, freshman Tori Estrada leads the Bucs with 228 digs (3.08 per set) and sophomore Cara Fisher has 149 on the season (2.87 per set). Evangelista leads the Buccaneers with 63 blocks this season (0.97 per set), while Salter has 55 (0.90 per set).
After the Buccaneers and Lady Dragons play in the tournament's first game at 10 a.m. Thursday, Panola and Laredo will play at noon, Tyler and Wharton will play at 2 p.m. and Trinity Valley will play San Jacinto at 4 p.m.
Second-round games would then be played Friday. If the Bucs defeat Paris, they would then play the Tyler-Wharton winner at 2 p.m. Friday.
The championship game will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday, and if the team from the elimination bracket wins that match, the teams would play one more time at 4 p.m. to determine the regional champion. Both finalists will advance to the NJCAA National Championships held Nov. 15-17 on the campus of Missouri State University-West Plains.
Blinn won the national championship in 2008 and 2011.