San Diego—The Fresno Pacific University Sunbirds are the 2003 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national volleyball champions, thanks to a December 6 win over Columbia of Missouri in Golden Gymnasium on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University.
Lin Gao, voted the tournament's most valuable player, led the Sunbirds with 15 kills, 21 digs and five blocks. Mesha Wimer added 18 kills and two blocks while Lorena Zuleta contributed 14 kills and seven blocks. Both Zuleta and Wimer joined Gao on the all-championship tournament team. Coach Dennis Janzen was named Coach of the Year.
The team's traded leads in game one like a couple of prize fighters sizing each other up. The Cougars broke a 24-24 tie with three consecutive points, then squandered the lead just as quickly with two ball handling errors and a hitting error. After a Cougars time out, Columbia pulled ahead 28-27, but Wimer put away a Cougars overpass, then Zuleta closed it with a pair of kills.
Game two was more of the same. FPU broke a 25-25 tie with a Kara Verwey kill, then Zuleta and Gao combined for a roof block. The wheels temporarily came off the Sunbirds wagon in game three. Columbia raced to a 9-3 lead, then expanded it to 28-19 as FPU's passing broke down and their block disappeared. FPU rallied with six of the next seven points pushing the score to 29-25 before the Sunbirds fell 30-25.
"We got into trouble in game three because we abandoned the things that we had been doing all week," Janzen said. "We had one entire rotation where Lin went through the front row and only got one swing."
Gao, the senior form Shen Yang, China, pulled the Sunbirds together before the start of game four for a pep talk. "I have never seen her so intense," said Chelsey Duley as she and Verwey hugged after the game. "She really pulled us together," Verwey added.
Gao's encouragement paid off. FPU raced to an 11-5 lead in game four and never looked back. The Cougars closed the margin to four points once (12-8) but the Sunbirds were on cruise control. It ended, to the delight of a large contingent of FPU fans, with a Columbia ball handling error.
"Lin was our best player in this tournament," said a jubilant, but drained FPU coach Dennis Janzen. "Did you see those digs? She is something special. I'm thrilled she goes out as a champion."
2003 Fresno Pacific University Sunbirds Roster No. Name Pos Ht Year Hometown Previous School 1 Lin Gao Oh 6-3 Sr Shen Yang, China Liao Ning Sports High School 2 Gera Bahr Mb 5-10 So Clovis, CA Buchanan High School 4 Janelle Jackson S 5-6 Fr Kingsburg, CA Immanuel High School 6 Lorena Zuleta Mb 6-4 So Cali, Columbia Santiago University-Cali 7 Chelsley Duley S 5-10 Sr Tollhouse, CA Sierra High School 8 Samantha Weatherly Ds 5-7 Fr Visalia, CA Redwood High School 9 Lisa Enns S 5-7 Jr Clovis, CA Clovis High School 10 Jennifer Strid Ds 5-7 Jr Visalia, CA Immanuel High School 12 Mesha Wimer Mb 6-1 Jr Sanger, CA Sanger High School 13 Shailey Jones Mb 5-11 So Kingsburg, CA Immanuel High School 14 Mika Pestorich Oh 5-10 Sr Fresno, CA Clovis West High School 15 Erin Mazmanian Op 5-11 Jr Madera, CA Buchanan High School 16 Hu Xiao Feng Oh 6-0 So Wu Han, China Shi Jis Zhuang High School 21 Kara Verway Oh 6-1 Sr Kerman, CA Kerman High School Head Coach: Dennis Janzen (559-453-2074) email@example.com Assistants: Matt Terra & Tracy (Ainger) Schulte