OTTUMWA – There is definitely a different November buzz surrounding the Indian Hills volleyball team this year, one that is spreading across the Ottumwa campus.

“We go to class and people are talking about it,” IHCC sophomore Suzana Andrade said. “People are cheering for us. They’re making sure we have the support. We come to practice and we’re so excited, give 100 percent and do our best.”

The Warrior volleyball team has reason to be excited heading into postseason play, having won 33 of 36 matches including the first 16 and last 15 of the regular season. Indian Hills closed out the regular season avenging their only home loss to Iowa Western, sweeping the Reivers on the road by the exact same scores Iowa Western won by in Ottumwa earlier this year (25-23, 26-24 and 25-20) to earn a share of the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference regular-season title.

All that success has sixth-ranked Indian Hills in prime position to make a run at the program’s first national tournament berth since 2005. The Warriors head to the NJCAA Midwest District B volleyball tournament, hosted by Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois needing just two wins to earn the program’s third-ever national tournament bid.

“I got a message the other day from another coach on campus about the vibe that my team carries with it this year and the different kind of swagger we’ve got,” Indian Hills head volleyball coach Lyndsey Michel said. “I don’t think there’s overconfidence, but I think there’s enough confidence that makes everyone else uncomfortable when we walk into their gym.”

The win for the Warriors at Iowa Western last week was first time in eight seasons under Michel that IHCC has swept the Reivers, doing so in the gymnasium where many promising Warrior volleyball seasons have come to an end. The Warriors are 24-2 overall away from home, losing consecutive matches on the same day to Navarro and Hutchinson in Kansas, with 14 wins in 15 matches over an opponent on that opponent’s home floor. Indian Hills will need a 15th win in 16 true road matches Saturday against Lake Land to reach the district championship match.

“That’s doesn’t scare us. We like playing away from home,” IHCC sophomore libero Amanda Toyota said.

“It seems like we actually do better on the road,” Andrade added.

Should IHCC beat Lake Land, the hosts of Saturday’s district tournament, the Warriors may see a very familiar face in the district finals. The Warriors would either face Kaskaskia College for the first time this season, or would face Missouri State-West Plains for the fifth time having already won four matches this season over the Grizzlies with the last match going five sets at the Hellyer Student Life Center back on Oct. 16.

“I would rather be in the position we’re in where we go into this tournament with plenty of confidence,” Michel said. “We know we’ll be playing from behind plenty of times this weekend. We always do. We start out slow before we come around and dominate at the end. That doesn’t make me as nervous as it used to. I trust them a little more to get that ball rolling.

“We’ve studied Lake Land a little bit. They’re going to have a bit of a different pace. We just have to be the first to be aggressive and stay quick. I’m not at all worried about these girls playing on the road. They won at Iowa Western. I’m not worried about them beating anyone anywhere.”

For second-year sophomores like Toyota and Andrade, the feeling going into postseason play this year is completely different from the feeling a year earlier. Injuries and inconsistent play left IHCC with an 18-16 record that ended with a three-game loss in the district finals to Mineral Area (25-15, 27-25, 25-17).

Now, even on the road, Indian Hills has earned the right to feel like a postseason favorite have won 11 more matches than Kaskaskia, 12 more than Lake Land and 17 more than MSU-West Plains. That, along with two at-large bids given out to teams that don’t automatically qualify for the national tournament, have the Warriors confident in being able to extend their season past this weekend’s trip to Illinois.

“We feel like we know each other 100 percent right now on this team,” Andrade said. “We know what each other is thinking out there on the court.

“We care more about each other on and off the court,” Toyota added. “That’s the biggest difference from last year.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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