Part two in a series of some of the most memorable moments in Barton athletics
It was November 26, 2003.
For two decades the Barton Community College volleyball team had been one of the top teams in the country year after year heading to the NJCAA tournament.
It fact Barton was making its 16th straight trip to the national tournament that year and the 19th in 20 years. Of those previous 18 trips the Cougars had made it to the quarterfinals 17 times.
On 11 occasions the Cougars moved into the semifinals. But only once had they won in the semifinals – in 1989 when Barton finished runner-up to Miami-Dade County under coach Ray Bechard who moved on to coach the University of Kansas about a decade later.
In addition to that second place finish the Cougars had captured third place three times and finished fourth seven times.
But missing from the otherwise full trophy case was an NJCAA National Championship trophy.
The Cougars and coach John Hunter knew 2003 could be the year. In addition to a bevy of talent the Cougars had the service of Ping Cao as an assistant for that one season. The 6-3 Cao was a member of the Chinese volleyball team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
The Cougars entered the national tournament as the No. 2 seed after a great regular season and Region VI tournament.
Barton was 30-1 on the season. And make no mistake, it was an impressive 30-1.
The lone loss of the season came to Seward County without the services of Raquel Ferreira and Livia Salzano – a pair of All-Americans.
For the entire season Barton dropped just six games...three in the loss to No. 17 Seward, one at Dodge City in a 3-1 win, one to No. 7 Jefferson College (Mo) in a 3-1 win and one to No. 1 Miami-Dade in a 2-1 win.
Following that close win over Miami-Dade, the Cougars were unbeatable.
Barton started the 2003 campaign by rolling to a 15-0 record before the 30-28, 30-27, 30-26 loss to Seward at the Barton Gym. Barton followed that loss with a trip to Hillsboro, Mo. for a tournament that included the No. 1 and No. 4 ranked teams in the country.
The Cougars won both of those matches, beating No. 4 Southwest Missouri State-West Plains 32-30, 30-25 and No. 1 Miami-Dade 30-28, 28-30, 15-8.
The loss in the second game against Miami-Dade would be the last time Barton would lose a game. The Cougars hammered their foes the rest of the season including their second win of the season over 4th ranked West Plains in straight sets, a second win over No. 7 Jefferson College and a straight set win over No. 11 Western Nebraska.
Crowds at the Barton Gym grew bigger and bigger as the season drew on. The student body even began a chant that year. When Barton would dig or bump the ball they would yell out ‘A’, on the set they would holler ‘B’ and when the spike went down the students would yell “C you later”.
Barton and Seward ended the season tied at 7-1 in the Jayhawk West with Seward winning the conference championship due to the tie-breaker. At that time teams played each other only once in the conference season.
With nearly every team playing at the NJCAA Division I level in the conference at the time the post season was split into two districts with the winner of each district getting a bid to the NJCAA National Tournament. Barton and Seward were in opposite districts and both advanced.
Barton had very little trouble getting out of district play. The closest game in the four matches of district play was 30-23. The Cougars opened with a 30-9, 30-8, 30-14 win over Highland then dominated Colby in much the same fashion 30-9, 30-6, 30-13.
Barton beat Hutchinson 30-17, 30-23, 30-23 in the winners’ bracket final of the double elimination event then beat them again 30-20, 30-12, 30-17 to wrap up a trip to the NJCAA tournament.
Entering the 2003 National Tournament on the campus West Plains, Barton had won 36 straight games and were 77-6 overall in games played on its way to the 30-1 record.
But the Cougars had the No. 2 seed despite a win over the tournament’s No. 1 seed Miami-Dade.
Barton embarrassed 15th seed Wallace State (Ala) in the first round winning 30-9, 30-17, 30-4. That’s right, 30-4 at the national tournament.
The Cougars got a bit more of a challenge in the quarterfinals but were never threatened in a win over 10th seed Frank Phillips (Texas) College. Barton moved into the semifinals with a 30-19, 30-18, 30-16 win.
The semifinal was going to be a battle against No. 3 Southern Idaho who was 49-3 at the time with two of those loses to West Plains back in August. The Golden Eagles had won 35 straight matches and were coming off a quarterfinal win over Seward.
But the lethal combination of Ferreira and Paula Caten were too much for Southern Idaho. The two combined for 38 kills as Barton won in straight sets, 30-25, 30-26, 31-29. Barton scored the final four points of the third game to win the match.
When host West Plains pulled off the upset of No. 1 seed Miami-Dade in the other semifinal in a thrilling 30-27, 22-30, 19-30, 30-25, 15-8 come-from-behind win, it would guarantee someone other than Southern Idaho or Miami-Dade would win the title for the first time in 12 years.
A near capacity crown filled the Civic Center with the hometown Grizzlies in the title match. It was the second straight year West Plains had reached the finals, losing to Miami-Dade in 2002.
Each team would trot out a three eventual All-Americans – Ferreira, Caten and Salzano from Barton and Roselidah Obunaga, Anna Dmoska, and Felicia Jones of West Plains.
It was the night before Thanksgiving. Several Cougar faithful had made the 8-hour trip to West Plains. Many more were back in Great Bend and the surrounding area listening on the radio.
It didn’t take Barton long to establish they were the better team.
Barton was never really in trouble during the opening two games of the match, winning 30-21 and 30-20.
The third game was different. The teams traded the lead numerous times before Barton finally pulled away late in the contest. And when Ferreira made the final kill the Cougars had clinched the NJCAA title with a 30-27 win.
Ferreira would be named the MVP of the tournament with Salzano and Caten joining her on the first team. Ferreira and Caten would be named first team All-Americans and Salzano was a second team selection. Coach Hunter would be named the NJCAA Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Ferreira went on to be the NAIA Player of the Year at Concordia University-Irvine (Calif). She moved on to professional volleyball and currently lives in Los Angeles and is a pro beach volleyball player. She was the AVP Rookie of the Year in 2009.
Caten went on to play for Bechard at the University of Kansas where she became an All-Big XII player as well as a 1st team Academic All-American.
Barton had a near complete overhaul of its roster the following year. Coach Hunter moved on and despite being just freshmen Ferreira and Salzano moved on as well. All Conference freshmen Claudia Houle transferred to Montana.
The only sophomores on the team were Justeen Patton who went on to the University of Iowa and Lauren Scott who played for Florida State University and Caten.
However only Colorado Springs freshman Brooke DeLanghe, Texas freshman Adetokunbo Faleti, and Gorham freshman Jeanie Lapka returned for their sophomore seasons. All played reserve rolls as freshmen.
Cao has gone on to be one of the top volleyball instructors in the United States. He won nine national championships at the club level coaching for Sports Performance and Texas Advantage Volleyball Clubs. He teaches at numerous clinics and has made several instructional DVDs.