When your motto is "One Team, One Dream," one loss can seem devastating.
But maybe only for one day.
"I really hope so, " St. Ambrose senior volleyball standout Michael Neuner said following the top-ranked Fighting Bees hard-fought, 3-1 NAIA national championship game loss to Park University of suburban Kansas City, Mo., Saturday night at the P.E. Center. "It's a hard thing. We really wanted it. But 33-3 is not a bad year, if you ask me."
Certainly not. Behind standout fifth-year senior Fray-Luis Arteaga, a Venezuelan whose MVP championship match performance included 25 kills while pacing Park to a 25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 25-17 victory, Park may have been the better team on a night that saw a record 2,763 fans pack the arena.
But among the Bees 33 victories earlier this season were a pair of straight-set wins over the Pirates.
Coach Bill Gleeson's Bees spent all but two weeks atop the national rankings this season. And a second-straight national tournament runner-up finish on their own floor certainly points to a bright future for a program that Gleeson, Neuner and fellow seniors Dan Dowjotas, Hayden Grove, Matt Brahm and Joe Sponseller helped build into a national power.
Dowjotas is certain to be named an NAIA All-American for a third straight year in the coming week. Neuner was honored as NAIA Sportsman of the Year late Saturday. And Gleeson and St. Ambrose also hosted three of the most successful national tournaments in NAIA men's volleyball history, said 12th-year tournament director Paul Lawson, a former Marycrest head coach who hinted of a strong chance the event could return in the very near future.
Attendance during all three days of this year's tournament exceeded the record totals of the 2011 event and the arena was packed to the rafters Saturday with black-clad St. Ambrose enthusiasts. They were hoping to watch the volleyball team provide the second national team title in school history, as well as the second in as many days on the heels of a dance team championship won Friday in Florida.
These Bees had been pointing toward Saturday's opportunity since falling to California Baptist in the title game last year. Dowjotas, who was joined on the all-tournament team by junior Kyle Schwetz, said that singular goal made finding a silver lining difficult in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's loss.
But he could see that changing in a day or two.
"We put everything out there," the senior star said after leading the Bees with 12 kills. "It's just a little sad right now. I'm sure tomorrow will be a little better."
Gleeson said his Bees won't be the only ones to see a bright side soon.
"I said look at nearly 3,000 fans," he said of his post-game message to his team. "How can you not enjoy what this team has done? It has been an amazing journey and we can't let one game define their career or their season.
"Memories of being in this national championship and these national tournaments here at St. Ambrose are something not just our team is going to remember but nearly 3,000 fans as well."
Also in April: The St. Ambrose cheerleading squad finished fourth at the national tournament. Read about them here.
And Bees men's bowlers finished fifth in the nation. Read more here.
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