Saturday afternoon here at Alico Arena they beat tournament host Florida Gulf Coast 3-0 (25-22, 25-18, 25-21) to win the 2009 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship. It was the third trip in a row to the championship match for the Lady Bisons. They also won in 2007.
In 2007 it was a surprise. This time around the Lady Bisons had no doubts they would prevail.
“It was more expected this time I think,” said junior middle hitter Alex Kelly. “We have worked so hard. If we had not won it, then it would have been really disappointing.
“It feels great. It is a relief off of our shoulders. We played timid against Belmont Friday night and we got that all out of our system. Against Florida Gulf Coast we came in believing we were the better team and we showed it.”
The Lady Bisons, 22-0 against A-Sun competition this season, are 28-3 overall. They have won their last 25 matches in a row.
The win also gives the Lady Bisons their second trip to the NCAA Tournament. Since the Atlantic Sun switched to a single division format only two teams, Central Florida in 2003 and Florida Atlantic in 2005, went on to have perfect records against A-Sun opponents in both the regular season and post-season.
Junior setter Stefine “Jake” Pease was named the Most Valuable Player in the A-Sun Tournament for the second time. She also won the award as a freshman in 2007.
Joining Pease on the All-Tournament Team were senior opposite Erin Pierce and Kelly.
Kelly led the Lady Bisons with a match-high 13 kills. Junior outside hitter Meghan Hinemeyer added 11.
Sophomore libero Katie Rose was credited with a match-high 16 digs. Pierce made 15 and Pease chipped in with 13.
Anna Wagner was the only Florida Gulf Coast player in double figures in kills. She made 10. Holly Youngquist led her team with 15 digs.
“They can keep on coming,” said Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal of the second championship. “Believe me, it doesn’t get old.”
The Lady Bisons appeared very calm in pre-game warm-ups. They did their jobs. They celebrated their win, but they know there are still more matches ahead.
“The players were very calm,” said Rosenthal. “I was a wreck inside. It was one of the longest mornings of my life.”
In fact, Rosenthal sent a text to Florida Gulf Coast coach Dave Nichols asking if the two teams could play earlier.
“Some of it was just the unknown,” said Rosenthal. “It was unknown what Florida Gulf Coast was going to do emotionally. It was unknown how the crowd would affect us.
“As the match got started I was able to calm down a little bit. It was fun. One of the officials said he was going to give me an Academy Award for the drama I was putting on. I told him theater was my major.”
The Lady Bisons, the No. 1 seed, did face an emotional Florida Gulf Coast team which was playing without its best player, middle hitter Jelena Simic who injured her knee near the end of the first set Friday night against Jacksonville.
In order to stem that tide of emotion Rosenthal knew it was important for the Lady Bisons to win the first set.
“Florida Gulf Coast came back on us and I thought, we can’t go down 0-1,” said Rosenthal. “We have done a nice job all year of keeping that first set. In the end the girls really pushed through.”
The Lady Bisons are the first Lipscomb team to win both the regular season and tournament championships in the same year. They are also the first Lipscomb team to win two conference tournament championships.
“We are doing something special,” said Rosenthal. “I can’t say enough about the girls and the staff.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations