CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Junior outside hitter Erin Edwards (Midlothian, Va.) set a new career-high in kills with 17 as Carson-Newman defeated Wingate 3-1 in the South Atlantic Conference Tournament Semifinals.
"We went into tonight's match with the confidence that we knew what we needed to do," head coach Ashley Tiernan said postgame. "We never faltered from our game plan and we stayed engaged in every play. I am so proud of the effort and tenacity from each one of these players.
"God has blessed each one of us this season and it is awesome to see His workings in us."
It is the first time since 2017 that the Eagles (24-7) have reached the finals of the conference tournament. In the five appearances that C-N has had in the finals, the team has compiled a 2-3 record with SAC tournament wins in 2000 and 2002. The past three times, however, have resulted in losses for C-N in 2007, 2009 and 2017, respectively.
A team that is now 16-2 under Tiernan will be looking to flip the script from a trio of recent conference finals outcomes. Included in those 16 wins are a pair of victories against the top team in the Southeast region in Wingate (29-2), who bow out of the conference tournament with the only blemishes on its record coming at the hands of C-N.
Edwards' career night came at an opportune time for the Eagles, who only had one other player in Megan Oldenburger (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) record double-digit kills (16). With her previous best set on Sept. 20 with 16 kills against Anderson, Edwards' was the offensive catalyst needed to provide C-N with its first-ever season defeating two ranked opponents in one year.
"We knew Erin was hot and we fed her as much as we could," Tiernan said. "She brought a wide range of shots and put big points down for us at multiple critical moments."
Perhaps the most influential of her 17 kills came at the end of the second set, where a blast from Edwards crashed down onto the floor at the Levine Center to give C-N a commanding, 2-0 match lead.
For much of the first two sets, the Eagles maintained a small cushion between themselves and the opposition. At 22-20 in the first set, a kill by Edwards and a pair of Wingate attacking errors gave C-N a 1-0 lead.
Nearly identical to the first frame, a 22-20 lead in the second set would see the Eagles win three of the remaining five points, will kills from Edwards and Katie Parnell (Atlanta, Ga.) cementing the match lead to a pair.
Wingate would respond, however, by controlling a set of their own to avoid being swept by C-N. Down 24-18, however, the Eagles would win five straight points to come within one of forcing extra play in the set. An attacking error by Edwards would put ice on any celebration, with the Bulldogs winning 25-23.
A fourth and final set would see the extra points played, with the set teetering back and forth with five ties after each side eclipsed 20 points. A final block by Parnell and Kendall Cooley (Castle Rock, Colo.) would send the entire team into a pile near midcourt, completing a 25-20, 25-22, 23-25, 27-25 victory.
Defense played a crucial role in the success of C-N in the semifinals, holding Wingate to a .049 hitting percentage – its lowest mark of the 2019 season.
A total of 54 kills from the Eagles outhit the 44 kills from the Bulldogs, with C-N also recording 28 errors, six fewer than the 34 mistakes hit by the opposing Wingate, respectively.
Senior libero Morgan Ballard (Weaverville, N.C.) recorded 33 digs in the contest, her most in a four-set match all season. Sophomore setter Taylor Rohr (Windsor, Colo.) set a season-high mark in assists with 28.
In the finals, C-N will face the winner of Queens and Anderson with the opponent TBD late Friday night. Live coverage of the conference tournament finals will be provided by Queens on the conference website.