Courtesy of Florida SouthWestern State Sports Information
HUTCHINSON, Kan.- The NJCAA National Championship trophy will reside in the white sand beaches of Southwestern Florida for at least one more year as the #1 Florida SouthWestern State Buccaneers won their second straight NJCAA National Championship on Saturday night in Hutchinson, Kansas, shaking off a slow start to defeat their rivals and 3rd ranked Miami Dade 3-1 to complete the back to back against the Sharks.
In a rematch of the 2022 title game, the Bucs got off to a slow start against the Sharks as it was Miami Dade jumping out to a 9-4 advantage to begin the ballgame. The Bucs worked their way back into things with a 4-0 run midway through the set, but the Sharks pushed forward once again, extending their lead back to five at 18-13 later in the set. FSW cut the Miami Dade lead to four twice, but couldn't get any closer as the Sharks closed them out 25-19 to take a 1-0 lead in the match. The Bucs had a hard time slowing down the Shark attack as Miami Dade hit .419 with 16 kills in the set while FSW had 12 kills and hit .300.
The second had a different script. FSW came out swinging with kills from Sara Gasparini and Nina Boledovicova to begin the period and moments later back to back kills from Victoria Zibecchi made it 9-4 Bucs. The Sharks got back to within three midway through the set before a 4-0 FSW run highlighted by a pair of Boledovicova kills and another from setter Roberta Purashajmade it 16-9 Bucs later in the set. The Bucs never let the Sharks get close again as Boledovicova continued a huge second set with a kill to get it to set point for FSW and then put away her sixth kill of the set to close it out as the Bucs took it 25-16 to level the match at a set a piece. The Bucs offense was cooking in the period as they finished with 16 kills at a .361 clip while holding Miami Dade to just a .185 mark.
In a key third set, neither side wanted to give an inch and after 20 points, the two were knotted at 10. Purashaj found Zibecchi on the right side to break the tie and put the Bucs up and moments later Alondra Alarcon tooled the block to make it a three point game in favor of FSW at 17-14. Every time Miami Dade tried to make a push, the Bucs had an answer. A big block from Izzy Collierand Zibecchi made it 22-17 FSW and a ball handling error by the Sharks sealed their fate as the Bucs claimed a 25-19 third set win to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
The fourth was close again early on until a pair of Boledovicova kills sandwiched around a Purashaj to Gasparini hook up gave FSW a 9-8 advantage. After the Sharks retook the lead momentarily, a 4-0 run by the Bucs put them back on top 14-10 midway through the set. Miami Dade got the next two to cut the Bucs lead in half, but three straight Shark errors padded the FSW lead back to 17-12. With Shark blood in the water, the Bucs began to smell the finish line as Purashaj and Collier combined on a block to make it 21-13 and three rotations later it was Boledovicova and Zibecchi in on one of their own to give FSW seven cracks at Championship point. Miami Dade fought off the first two chances, but the third time was a charm for the Purple and Aqua as Gasparini went off the block for a kill and the celebration began for the Bucs as FSW took the set 25-18 and the match 3-1.
The Bucs finished an outstanding offensive season with 57 kills and a .292 hitting percentage in the Championship Game win. Zibecchi closed out an unbelievable tournament with 15 kills and just 1 error on 41 swings while Boledovicova put together a career game with 14 kills and 0 errors on 23 attacks, good for a .609 hitting mar. Alarcon put a bow on her outstanding FSW career with 14 kills and 13 digs, giving the sophomore 10 or more kills in all 8 career games at the National Tournament. Purashaj ran the Bucs offense to near perfection once again, distributing 46 assists to go over 1,900 for her FSW career. Anna Marzella finished her rookie season with 17 digs giving her her three top dig performances of the season in the National Tournament Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and National Championship Game.
At tournament's end, the trio of Alarcon, Zibecchi, and Purashaj were named to the All-Tournament Team. Alarcon finished with double digit kills in all four games, totaling 46 for the tournament while also adding 38 digs and 7 aces. Zibecchi had a monster week, racking up 53 kills and making just 2 errors to hit an eye popping .455 hitting percentage in the four wins. Purashaj was named the Tournament MVP after quarterbacking the Bucs offense to nearly 15 kills per set on the week. She dished out 153 assists in her 13 sets played while also chipping in 27 digs, 8 kills, and 5 blocks. Joining the trio on the stage was FSW Head Coach Thais Baziquetto-Allenwho was named the Heidi Cartisser Coach of the Tournament for the second straight year.
FSW wins their second straight NJCAA National Championship, becoming just the fifth team in NJCAA Division I history to accomplish the feat. The Bucs finish the season 31-1, making them 58-2 in their back to back National Championship seasons. Miami Dade sees their season end at 23-6 and with a runner-up finish for the second straight year to the Bucs.