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Sewell contributes to college championship

by Chuck Smock, Sports Editor

Former Douglas star Lulu Sewell and her University of Denver volleyball teammates clinched the Sun Belt Conference West Division championship with a five-game win over the University of North Texas on Sunday.

The Pioneers, who are competing in the Division I Sun Belt Conference for only their second year, will be the No. 1 seed at this week’s conference tournament, which starts Thursday in New Orleans.

“It’s amazing,” Sewell said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “It’s the first time (the University of Denver) has ever won a volleyball conference title. We all feel special about winning it.”

Denver will receive a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Pioneers will play the winner of the match between South Alabama and Middle Tennessee on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CST.

The winner of the Sun Belt Conference tournament earns a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“We’re very excited,” said Sewell, a sophomore “It really can be anybody’s tournament. Everyone in the conference is pretty equal. Last year, we lost in the first round to a team (Louisiana-Lafayette) we should have beaten. Our main focus this week is mental preparation. Last year, we felt like we weren’t mentally prepared and we sunk under the pressure.

“This is our second year and we know what we’re heading into. We’ve faced every team and we can beat every team. We have a lot more confidence.”

And Sewell played a big role in late-season surge that carried Denver (19-12 overall, 12-4 in conference) to the Sun Belt Conference West Division championship.

Early season injuries to two key players forced Pioneers coach Beth Kuwata to shuffle her lineup. When sophomore middle blocker Laurie Young suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, Sewell was moved from outside hitter to the middle -her natural position.

“I was looking forward to playing middle again,” Sewell said. “That’s what I always played, and outside wasn’t happening for me.

“All the time I was outside I was wishing I could be back in the middle. I knew I could hit hard and be a threat. But, when I went back to the middle, I was just average. I wasn’t as good as I remembered.”

Sewell got the opportunity to move back to the outside when senior outside hitter Sarah Kaye tore ligaments in her ankle.

In her second match after Kaye’ injury, Sewell had career highs of 15 kills and 17 digs in a five-game win over Middle Tennessee in mid-October. Two nights later, she pounded out 23 kills and made 17 digs in a five-game win over Western Kentucky.

“When I moved back outside, I started hitting the ball hard and I felt tons more comfortable,” Sewell said. “The second game back outside, everything clicked. I had timing and my body position was good.

“It was great. I don’t ever want to play middle again,” she added with a laugh.

Sewell finished the regular season second on the team in kills (253), digs (271), aces (34) and solo blocks (10). She also had 67 assists, which was the fourth highest total on the team.

And the former Tiger is on a roll heading into the conference tournament. She had 18 kills, 11 digs and four blocks in the win over North Texas on Sunday. On Nov. 5, Sewell turned in 18 kills, 17 digs and four blocks in a five-game win over South Alabama.