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Irem Elmas and Iowa Western -- 2021 National Champions!


The Reivers (= River Pirates) from Iowa Western made history as they put forth an impressive team effort to capture the 2021 NJCAA D1 National Volleyball Championship. 
Saturday evening, April 17th, featured an unforgettable performance against Snow College of Utah, with the Reivers prevailing 3-1 (storming out of the gate for a 25-15 first set, dropping their first set in the entire national tournament to Snow 20-25 in the second set, capturing the pivotal third set 25-20 after a relentless back and forth battle, and delivering a compelling fourth set, 25-19). The pirate ship from Council Bluffs, IA, steered by Coach of the Year Alicia Williams, delivered a definition of teamwork, with four players in double digits, led by Irem Elmas with 18 points, 15 kills, and 12 digs. Joining Irem in the All-Tournament Team was Maike Bertens, with 15 kills, and MVP Yadhira Anchante, who had 51 assists, 11 digs, 6 kills, and 3 blocks. In recent memory, the 5th-ranked Reivers were the lowest seed to capture the national title, upsetting three higher ranked opponents in the process, including top-ranked, heavy favorites, undefeated and winners of 10 previous national titles, Miami Dade in the semi-final on Friday. 


Their memorable run begun on Thursday, April 15th, where the 5th ranked Reivers battled Wallace State from Alabama (at the time sporting a 34-1 record), leaving little room for doubt and prevailing 3-0 (25-21, 25-7, 25-12). Irem Elmas, the Reivers' leading scorer throughout the season, had 13.5 points, 8 kills in 15 attacks, 10 digs, and 5 aces; Irem had a lot of help from Maike Bertens, who had 7 kills in 20 attacks, Elenoa Sing had 6 kills in 13 attacks and 5 blocks, while in a sign of things to come, the team's setter Yadhira Anchante had 23 assists, 10 points on 7 kills in 11 attacks, 8 digs, and 3 blocks. 

Later the same day, Iowa Western faced their first higher-ranked opponent, 4th ranked Utah State Eastern. The Reivers came out with guns blazing, Maike Bertens scoring 20.5 points with 16 kills in 35 attacks and 4 aces, while Irem Elmas had 15.5 points with 14 kills in 38 attacks, 10 digs, and 3 blocks. Once again 5 key blocks and 8.5 points from Elenoa Sing helped the Reivers, as did their emerging leader, setter Yadhira Anchante, with 38 assists, 9.5 points with 9 kills in 15 attacks, and 8 digs. Key defensive contributions included Leah Palensky's 21 digs and Elaina Bohnet's 16 digs, helping the Reivers to another 3-0 win (25-20, 25-23, 25-11). 


The much anticipated semi-final took place on Friday, April 16th, against top-ranked throughout the 2020-2021 season, undefeated and heavy favorite to win the championship (winner of 10 previous national volleyball titles!) Miami Dade. In a major statement for the volleyball world, Iowa Western prevailed in an emphatic 3-0 win (25-20, an incredible 29-27 second set, and a hard-fought 25-22 third to clinch the spot in the championship match!) with more than the usual suspects contributing to this historic moment. Whereas Miami Dade was focusing on containing the leading scorer Irem Elmas (successfully so, as the first time Irem was held to single digits), critical contributions led to the Reivers triumph: Maike Bertens had 14.5 points with 12 kills in 33 attacks, Delaney Esterling had 13.5 points, 11 kills in 30 attacks, adding 5 key blocks, Dayan Malave had 12.5 points with 9 kills in 18 attacks and 7 crucial blocks, and Yadhira Anchante had an evening to remember with 33 assists, 15 digs, 7 points, 3 blocks, and 2 aces.


Despite the brutal daily matches' schedule, COVID protocol challenges, and being the proverbial underdog, travelling to Missouri for the national championship in 2021 proved to be a historic moment for Iowa Western. In the final, the Reivers faced an impressive, talented, and 3rd-ranked Snow College (UT) team that looked sharp, focused, determined, a squad of players who'd refuse to lose... Still, Iowa Western pretty much played a perfect game, with a remarkably balanced offense and constant teamwork on defense. Irem Elmas led all scorers, looking for redemption from a subpar match for her standards in the semi against Miami Dade, feeling "in the zone" from the start of the final, and at times displaying that "eye of the tiger" champions feature during their most memorable moments. Irem finished with 18 points, 15 kills in 43 attacks, 12 digs, and 3 aces. Fellow All-Tournament Team award recipient Maike Bertens matched Irem's 15 kills in 37 attacks, adding 6 digs and a critical block she celebrated intensely. Also in double figures, Delaney Esterling added 11 points, with 10 kills in 25 attacks, 2 blocks and 2 digs. Key were the contributions from the two strong and athletic middle blockers; Dayan Malave had 12.5 points, with 10 kills in 21 attacks, and 5 blocks, while Elenoa Sing had 8.5 points with 6 kills in 10 attacks, a couple of key blocks and the kind of work that does not always make its way to the box score but wins games. Tournament MVP Yadhira Anchante earned her honors emphatically, with 51 assists, 11 digs, 8.5 points with 6 kills in 16 attacks, and 3 blocks. Not to be outdone defensively, Leah Palensky swept the floor with 25 digs. This marked the second national title for Iowa Western, and second for head coach Alicia Williams, who was a player for the Reivers in their first national title campaign in 2006. 


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