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College volleyball: TMC’s game changer

Sam Dougherty has helped transform TMC into a national title contender

Posted: November 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The Master's College's Sam Dougherty has led the Mustangs to a No. 6 national ranking and a spot in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Volleyball National Championships in Sioux City, Iowa for the first time in school history.

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The Master’s College women’s volleyball coach Robert Blanken had quite the predicament on his hands when he was trying to sign his first recruiting class three years ago.

That predicament took him to a Denver volleyball tournament, where he was set on watching Central Cal’s Sam Dougherty in action.

Only problem was, Dougherty wasn’t getting much playing time, and needing to see other girls at the tournament, as well, he couldn’t sit around and wait for her to get into matches.

“I made friends with a dad on the team and whenever she would get the chance to play I’d come sprinting across the convention floor only to see Sam subbing out,” Blanken says. “That was kind of frustrating.”

Dougherty was a star for CIF-Central Section’s Madera High School, leading the Coyotes with 3.9 kills per set in 2009, accumulating a team-high 396 kills and a .260 hit percentage.

But her club team was so deep with talent, that Dougherty was relegated to a practice-player role.

“Before I knew it when I got to the breaking point; I was like ‘Is this what I really wanted and should have done?’ Dougherty says. “That was when the Lord began to answer my prayers. (Blanken) had contacted me after a tournament I hadn’t gotten hardly any playing time at.”

Now, a junior for the Mustangs, Dougherty is as big a reason as any for TMC’s unprecedented 2012 season.

After spending years as the Golden State Athletic Conference’s doormat, the Mustangs enter the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament for the first time, and are ranked No. 6 in the nation, with Dougherty earning All-Conference honors.

“As soon as he contacted me, things began to rapidly fall into place,” Dougherty says. “I scheduled a visit to come to Masters and I just loved it. He said the program was about trying to compete for a National Championship.”

It would have been easy for Dougherty to take that as cliche.

TMC had never been a well-respected volleyball program, generally finishing toward the bottom of the Golden State Athletic Conference.

But Blanken made her a believer — which was important for a girl who had already spent four years in a similar situation in high school.

As a freshman, she entered Madera High School at the same time new head coach Jeannie Davis took the job.

Together, they began rebuilding a team that was perennially at the bottom of the Tri-Rivers League.

“It was very hard. Every single practice it would just be like OK I hope I come out of this alive,” Dougherty said. “Honestly, it was very draining and consuming energywise and stuff. But each year my high school coach also had the same mindset: Here is this goal and this is what we’re going to reach and by the end of my high school career our team had over a .500 record and we had beat a couple teams we weren’t expected to.”

During her senior season, the Coyotes finished 29-9 and in a third-place tie in the league standings.

“She was definitely a huge part of the success that was built over at Madera High ...,” says her former head coach Jeannie Davis. “Starting from her eighth-grade year coming in and the changes that she would be faced with going from not really having a club background for volleyball to the expectation levels that were set, she took them head on and that’s what helped develop her not just as a volleyball player, but a strong individual with the successes she’s had.”

But that modest turnaround is nothing compared to what TMC has done this season.

“She’s accomplishing what her goals and determination has been since her freshman year,” Davis says. “She wanted to play college ball. She wanted to be a leader, and she had the heart and skill to do it.”

And they’ll look to keep the success going when NAIA tournament play opens on Nov. 27 in Sioux City, Iowa.

“We are definitely capable of making it all the way to the finals.,” Dougherty says. “Hanging with Concordia the other night — taking them to five — and even just seeing the way we’ve been consistently playing this season. I have no doubt about it.”

From the bench to the NAIA national tournament, Dougherty has put in the work. Now she’s reaping the rewards.

 

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