Saturday afternoon the top-seeded Lady Bisons spotted ETSU a two-set edge and then came back to win the next three to win the 2010 Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship here at Alico Arena on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast.
“This was not how I drew it up,” said a relieved coach Brandon Rosenthal. “We wanted this so badly. This past week from the first moment I woke up to the last second before I went to bed I couldn‘t get it out of my head.”
Rosenthal knew that his team was going to come back for the win after watching them walk back to the court after the 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
“About three-fourths of the way through my message it was like `enough of this’, “ Rosenthal said. “ We have to step it up and own up to our own responsibilities.
“There was a little more fire as we left the locker room. I could see it in their faces and I could hear it in their voices. They understood my message. I didn’t have a doubt that we would win after that.”
Middle blocker Alex Kelly was named the A-Sun Tournament MVP. She was joined on the All-Tournament team by setter Stefine “Jake” Pease and outside hitter Meghan Hinemeyer.
Kelly dealt with frustrations early before emerging as the top player in the match and in the tournament in the final three sets.
“I don’t know what I was doing in the first two games,” Kelly said. “I came back and got my head back in it and started playing actual volleyball.
“I wasn’t just playing bad, I was getting blocked. ETSU was not giving me any open looks. I finally decided I wasn’t going out this way.”
This is the second time in a row and the third time in the last four seasons that the Lady Bisons have won the tournament title.
They will advance to the NCAA Tournament with the A-Sun’s automatic bid. It is also the second season in a row that the Lady Bisons have won both the regular season and tournament championships, fulfilling preseason predictions.
The Lady Bisons also finished both the regular season and the tournament unbeaten for the second year in a row with a 12-0 record. They are 23-6 overall. ETSU finished the season with a 26-9 record.
This was the sixth time the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship match was decided in five sets. The last time it happened was in 2004.
The Lady Bisons fell behind early in the first set and trailed 10-3 before starting to chip away at ETSU’s lead. The Lady Bisons tied the game at 22-22 and 23-23 but never led in a 25-23 loss.
The Lady Bisons also started slow in the second set, but came back to take a 10-9 lead. The set was tied at 17-17 but ETSU took control the rest of the way for a 25-22 win.
“ETSU played great in the first two sets,” Rosenthal said. “The bottom line is we were getting outplayed.
“I was frustrated that we were not executing. And all year we have executed. That is something I have really praised this team for all season."
Rosenthal turned to assistant coach Samantha Sullivan in the second set and told her this is not the way this team was going to end the season.
“We were trying too hard on every play,” Rosenthal said. “We had not played our brand of volleyball in the first two sets.
“I told the team in the locker room that we had won 3-0 a lot of times. We had to think of it as the start of the match.”
After the 10-minute intermission the Lady Bisons amped up the intensity level, taking the lead for good at 4-3 and finishing with a 25-16 win in set three.
The Lady Bisons jumped out to 2-0 lead and never trailed in set four before prevailing 25-22 as Jake Pease rammed home a kill for win.
The Lady Bisons won the fifth set 15-8.
“The last thing I said to the girls before set five was the John Wooden quote that you have to earn the right to be proud and confident. That is something we have said all year long.”
Kelly had her second double-double of the tournament with 20 kills and 19 digs, both match highs. Also in double figures in kills were outside hitter Kaycee Green with 15 and middle blocker Katie Rose with 14.
Rose also posted a double-double with 13 digs. Also in double figures in digs were defensive specialist Caitlin “Dot” Dotson and libero Stephanie Rex with 11 each.
Pease finished with 55 assists.
The last time the Lady Bisons had allowed an A-Sun team to win the first two sets of a match in was Nov. 22, 2008 against Belmont in the tournament championship. Belmont swept the match 3-0.
Ironically, the last time the Lady Bisons played five sets in an A-Sun game was Oct. 2, 2009 in a 3-2 win at ETSU.
“What can you say about these girls,” Rosenthal said. “Jake and Alex have played in the championship game four years in row. I just can’t say enough about this team.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.