After winning the SEMO Conference Tournament Championship for the fifth time last week, Jackson volleyball senior outside hitter Nadia Wasilewski can now say she won the tournament every year she was an Indian.
The four-year varsity letter winner and future Wichita State Shocker Wasilewski led Jackson (17-6-1) in the conference tournament with 21 kills through three games, including nine in the championship match against Saxony Lutheran (17-4) Thursday night at the SportsPlex.
“It’s great to be that team that everybody goes, ‘Oh, they’re going to win,’” Nadia said when asked about leading Jackson to win a fifth-straight conference tournament championship. “I don’t mean to sound conceited, but it’s just great to be apart of Jackson volleyball for four years. I just love to talk about it, tell people and just be proud of it.”
The conference tournament title game was the second time that week Jackson shut out Saxony to add another notch to its belt. On Monday, Wasilewski helped the Indians also win the conference regular-season championship with a 3-0 shutout (25-19, 25-16, 25-17) of the Crusaders.
In the best-of-three tournament style of play, the Indians only needed two sets to beat Saxony 2-0 (25-18, 25-23) on Thursday. However, the Crusaders held the lead for a majority of the second set until Jackson rallied and took the lead. This was largely thanks to several momentum-switching kills spiked by Nadia and other future college players for the Indians.
“Right now, it feels to me like I just feel confident in myself, and you have to tell yourself that every day even if you’re not like, ‘I’m the best person here,’” Wasilewski said. “That’s just a mental note and not being negative towards anyone else, but it’s having confidence in yourself.
“Everyone struggles with confidence and especially since I’m committed [to Wichita State] I have to keep proving myself every single day. I just have to tell myself, ‘You’ve earned this — you’re good.’”
Also coming up big offensively for Jackson in the conference title match along with Wasilewski were fellow outside hitters senior Ella Domian and junior Katy St. John with 10 kills apiece.
These three are also to no one’s surprise the Indians three leaders in kills as St. John has 195, while Domian and Wasilewski pace her with 190 and 187 kills, respectively. While Domian is set at right-side hitter, Wasilewski and St. John actually rotate in for one another at the opposite outside hitting position.
“Katy and all of my teammates have worked so hard,” Nadia noted. “Everyone has gotten so much better every year, and I just think no matter who’s in or who’s on the bench we have a solid team. We don’t rely on one person ever, and I think that’s why we are so strong and why we are such a great team. We have so many great players who bond so well.”
Setting the ball to these future college hitters (Domian D-II Maryville commit; St. John offered by D-I Southeast Missouri State) was first-year starting setter senior Payton Gannon, who finished with 14 assists and three aces in the title game.
Defensively, Jackson was led by none other than senior libero Holland Guilliams as she produced a team-high 11 digs against Saxony in the conference title game. The Southeast Missouri State commit leads the Indians in digs with 210.
Guilliams also led the Indians in digs with eight in a 2-0 (25-20, 25-10) win over Cape Central (9-9-1) in the semifinals. The Tigers actually led Jackson for a little bit in the first set until the Indians took over and never looked back.
“I’m not gonna lie, we do [let our guard down] a little sometimes, like in the second set of the championship match,” Wasilewski explained. “Maybe we thought, ‘Oh, it’s just Saxony,’ and then they come and score a bunch of points because they’re good and can compete with us. I think sometimes it takes us being down in the set to really bring that really competitive, high-level part of our game out of us.”
Even though Jackson has already more games than it had last season, the Indians faithful shouldn’t worry as they’ve played some of the top opponents throughout the Show-Me State. Jackson’s losses include Incarnate Word Academy (15-7-1), Lafayette Wildwood (19-2), St. Pius X (15-4), Cor Jesu Academy (16-5), Eureka (16-7) and Marquette (25-3).
The only other match that the Indians have lost a set in was during their lone tie of the season to Webster Groves (13-12-1) in the Gateway Match Up Tournament. During the tournament, Jackson picked up wins over Francis Howell (20-7-1) and Nerinx Hall (15-7-2).
“Those games are always really close — really high speed and really fast, like the way Saxony played,” Nadia said. “That’s how we’ve been playing up when we go up to St. Louis, so we were prepared and ready for a tight game.
“I think we’re more starting to play like those St. Louis teams even though we’re from Southeast Missouri. I think that’s what really sets us apart from everyone else because we go out of our comfort zones, play teams up there and come down here and dominate.”
As far as the rest of the season goes, Jackson has three games this week before holding its annual tournament on Saturday. The Indians will then travel and play Fox (3-10) on Monday before hosting Eureka (16-7) next Wednesday.
“I’m excited even though there’s not much left, and I don’t think I’m going to be sad at all because I’ve got four more years left to play volleyball at Wichita State,” Wasilewski assured.