The Mustangs of Southwest Minnesota State University entered Saturday's Division II national volleyball championship match with a lot of momentum, after knocking off a string of tough opponents to get to the title match for the first time in their history.
But they couldn't pull off the final upset, and lost the championship to the University of Tampa in straight sets, 25-14, 25-20 and 25-21 Saturday in Louisville, according to SMSU Athletics.
SMSU finished the season 26-10. The Mustangs' remarkable run to the tournament was highlighted by victories over seven-time champion Concordia-St. Paul, the University of Minnesota Duluth and Sonoma State.
They reached the national championship by sweeping Grand Valley State of Michigan in straight sets Friday night. Until that match, Grand Valley had not lost a set the entire tournament.
The match was special for another reason. One of the Mustangs' players, freshman Greta Geist, has cancer. She was named a starter for the first game of the match but didn't play.
This is Geist's second bout with the disease. She was first diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in February, during her senior year at Burnsville High School, and went through what doctors said was successful treatment, according to the Marshall Independent.
Geist remained involved in volleyball at school, attending practices even though she couldn't play.
"Volleyball was a really important part of her focus," her father, Harry Geist, told the Independent.
And Geist's future teammates in Marshall rallied around her as well – even though many hadn't met her yet. During a tournament at South Dakota State, they wore violet T-shirts, the color of Hodgkins Lymphoma awareness, with the words "Team Greta."
They stayed in touch with her via text messages and social media.
"They basically told us that once you're committed to us, we're committed to you," Harry Geist said.
Greta Geist has been playing with those teammates all season long. But she learned just a couple of weeks ago that her cancer has returned, according to a message posted on her CaringBridge web page.
Dear Family & Friends, Greta's Hodgkin's Lymphoma has resurfaced. It hasn't spread, but is has come back in the neck and upper chest where it had been diagnosed earlier this year. Doctors are confident Greta will achieve a complete cure, but the journey is going to be longer than we'd hoped. Thank you in advance for your prayers for Greta.
Greta Geist will return, along with her teammates, to Minnesota from Louisville, and she begins her next round of treatment on Monday. She'll undergo chemotherapy and radiation over the next several weeks.
"This will be a challenging treatment regime, but Greta's doctor expects a complete cure," said her father on CaringBridge, "and that Greta will be free of this disease in 3 1/2 to 6 months."