MERCED, California (KGPE) – In a first for the UC Merced women’s volleyball team, they will compete this Saturday in the opening round of the NAIA tournament for the national championship.

The team earned its spot after winning their first championship title in the California Pacific Conference Championship. It marks the team’s best result, in a year that was the most challenging they have ever faced.

“When we started off our season, our first game was based on two weeks of practice and that was really hard to get our connection down,” said volleyball junior Olivia Harden.

The team started out the season with more losses than wins.

“We didn’t start the season off the best, we were like 0-and-2 in the beginning, against St. Katherine, but I think every challenge, every obstacle is a lesson,” said coach Ai Prachumsri.

But then they started to click.

“Once we started practicing non-stop this entire month, our connection and our play, our bond between everyone just got really strong. And I think that’s what really helped up in our championship game,” said Olivia Harden.

Their advice on how to keep going when life throws hurdles your way – is just to keep going.

“Don’t let anyone talk you down, don’t let anyone doubt you,” said Olivia Harden. “You’re gonna have haters in your life, you’re going to have people who think less of you. If you really want to do it and you really want to succeed in it, just put your mind to it. You can do it.”

They took the biggest hurdles and turned that into a success. Now they’re on a quest for a national championship title. The UC Merced Bobcats will compete against Eastern Oregon University this Saturday.