Lady Eagles push top-seeded Wingate to five sets, fall 3-2 in SAC Tournament
HARROGATE, Tenn. — Six points was all it took to steal away No. 8-seeded Carson-Newman College's storybook ending. After trailing 2-0, the Lady Eagles volleyball team did what no team has been able to do this season, force the Wingate Lady Bulldogs into a fifth and deciding set. In the end, the breaks went top-seeded Wingate's way and they held on to a 3-2 victory in the opening round of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament.
The undefeated No. 14-ranked Lady Bulldogs (28-0) saw their perfect season nearly go down in the flames as Carson-Newman (17-14) took them down to the wire, before losing 12-25, 16-25, 25-21, 26-24 and 10-15.
While some might see it as a moral victory for the Lady Eagles to come so close to the upset, head coach Shannon Mincey doesn't think her team agrees.
"I don't think our team is looking at it that way," Mincey said. "We're very disheartened to come out on the short end of this opportunity. We really looked at it like we would be the first team this year to beat Wingate."
With the loss and a Southeast Regional ranking outside the Top Eight, this will be the first time in five seasons the Lady Eagles will miss the NCAA Divsiion II Tournament.
C-N's season appeared in danger of ending early as the Lady Bulldogs easily dispatched them in the first two games. In the third, Carson-Newman sprang to life, fighting back tooth-and-nail before a late game surge gave them the victory. With freshman setter Kristen Pickett (Cleveland, Tenn.) at the service line, the Lady Eagles reeled off three straight points to take a 23-20 lead. Freshman outside hitter Lauren Santarelli (Colorado Springs, Colo.) got her team a game-point opportunity and service back with a kill off an assist from Pickett. A block from freshman outside hitter Rachel Harper (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and freshman middle hitter Ashley Ferris (Knoxville, Tenn.) gave C-N it's first win of the contest.
Carson-Newman stormed out to a 13-5 lead in the fourth set, only to see Wingate claw back into the game, tying it 15-15 on a 10-2 run. Mincey called a time out to get her team refocused and back into the match.
"We lost a very large lead in the fourth set and I think our girls got too excited and looked ahead (to the fifth set)," Mincey said. "The time out helped us, relaxed us and kept us on the gameplan."
Carson-Newman never trailed, but needed one extra service, this time from junior libero Angelle Hayes (Brentwood, Tenn.) to take the set on a kill from All-SAC senior outside hitter Nikki James (Cookeville, Tenn.).
The runs that Wingate couldn't get in the third and fourth set came back in the final game. A three-point run with Liz Willis at the line put the Lady Bulldogs ahead 9-6. With the cushion, Wingate just had to hold on, but won four straight points to get a match point at 14-9. The Lady Eagles held on, with Ferris getting a kill on an assist from Pickett, but an attack error allowed Wingate to escape with the victory.
Hayes finished the contest with 34 digs. James had 10 kills and two blocks. Santarelli had eight kills. Harper was 13 digs and sophomore setter Courtney Lawson (Chattanooga, Tenn.) had 10 digs. Pickett finished with 38 assists, no other Lady Eagle had more than one.