To face the toughest and most important competition, the Monroe College volleyball team has had to play many of its games on the road. Coach Nephtali Delgado Reyes said it has given the team a sense of unity and shared purpose—they’ve risen to the challenge.

“My players know how to play in a different environment than our house,” said Delgado Reyes. When playing on home court at Monroe Athletic Complex, the team has not dropped a set all season.

Just before playing in the regional championship, the Mustangs returned to the NJCAA Division I women’s volleyball rankings. Last Friday, the Mustangs claimed their seventh straight regional title with a 3-0 win over Harford College. Delgado Reyes has primed the team for excellence. Making this team all the more remarkable is that when recruiting he looks at academics first.

“They have to understand that sometime they miss classes [because of travel]. I need a player with discipline and work ethic in the academic part,” he said. “Depending on the position I’m looking for, then I see what a player can bring to the program.”

After Delgado Reyes became the coach, the team began winning, and soon he was scheduling tough matches that challenged the players and helped build the program. Originally from Puerto Rico, Delgado Reyes recruits there as well as locally, in Florida and internationally. Given the program’s success, players and club coaches also reach out to him. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, he and several of his players experienced grave concern for their families.

“I tried to help them and keep them focused on the classroom and on the court,” he said. “It was really hard. Some of them didn’t talk to their parents for more than two weeks.”

As with any two-year program, he is in constant recruitment mode. A number of his former players have moved on to D I and II four-year schools. One of the top Mustang sophomores is outside hitter Brianna Chin, a team captain. Delgado Reyes described her as bringing energy and leadership and praised her as being eminently coachable because she soaks up the information.

The Mustangs take on Spartanburg Methodist College in Spartanburg, S.C., Saturday for the District P Championship. The winner advances to the NJCAA Division I Volleyball Championship in Hutchinson, Kan.