The 2017 season was one to remember for the volleyball program. Not only did the team come back with a hunger after their defeat in the national tournament the year before, but there was a fire inside each player that burned for greatness.
No one displayed that fire quite like head coach Delice Downing. Downing (named the NJCAA Coach of the Tournament), who has always strived for greatness, instilled in her players the importance of detailed work and working for a purpose.
"My mind set was to get this new group fired up and ready to compete to get back [to the national tournament]," said Downing.
From the 2017 spring semester through August, Downing and her assistant Jessica Anderson worked tirelessly to get their players ready.
"I knew we had a great group of returners who have competed at a high level and they were hungry," said Downing. "They used their spring semester to fix the little things that needed to be fixed. We had a bitter taste in our mouths and wanted it to be a sweet taste. We had no idea what to expect our first year and when it got tough we folded. This year was totally different mentality 'Grit. Grind. Respect.'"
And compete they did.
The team would string together a 29 game winning streak, getting the momentum in full swing heading into playoffs.During their streak, the Red Ravens defeated rivals Neosho, Northeastern Oklahoma, Cowley, and Johnson County.
The 2017 National Championship didn't come with an easy paved road. Language barriers, natural disasters (hurricane destroying most of Puerto Rico), new teammates, and personal obstacles stood as hurdles for the team. Downing, who suffered the loss of her infant son in 2015, had battled through the adversity and really took her team under her care, like a mother would to her own child.
"My biggest challenge has been (and always will be) the loss of my son. It's hard for me to be away from my kids for long periods of time. I still feel the hurt, but I know God has His arms around us all," said Downing.
Her son's death brings a different perspective for Downing as she mentors her players. She takes more of a mother's role with the women and nurtures their development. It is through that type of coaching/teaching that her players push and run through the preverbal wall for Downing.
Going into the 2018 season, a lot of coaches and programs can sit back and have the success to allow for relaxation. That is not the case for Downing and her program.
"We now know what it takes to get there and now I know we can't sleep on anyone. We have a target on our back and we compete in the toughest conference, so every practice, study hall, class, and every set is crucial. Every team has us circled on their schedule in hopes to beat us," said Downing.