|November 19, 2016||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||Final|
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – No one really knows how high FGCU’s Leigh Pudwill hit the ball on what proved to be part of the last play of the ASUN Conference Tournament Volleyball Championship match.
The general consensus gleaned from several observers was around 30 feet, give or take a few feet. Regardless of the height, it was a tough play for Lipscomb right side Chloe Rogers. She had to decide whether it was going to come down close to the net and require her to make a block or if she could take a step back and slam home the kill.
While the exact apex of the ball was questionable, Rogers definitely knew what she had to do.
With the Bisons holding on to a 24-23 lead in set four she chose the latter and sent a kill into the deep left corner for the set and match point.
“I just knew as the ball was coming over I had to step back, give it my all, and do what I have done every day in practice,” Rogers said. “It was pretty high up there, but I just knew I had to do what was best for the team and put the ball away for the win.
“I really didn’t have much time to think. I thought it was a little bit farther off of the net, but I had already made my decision to step back and swing at it. Justin Beachy (assistant coach) had been telling me to hit to the deep corner the entire game so I just stepped back and put it in the corner. It was awesome to be able to do that, but I couldn’t have done it without my team having my back.”
Ironically, Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal had singled out Rogers on the bench for a dose of encouragement after she had made a couple of errors earlier in the fourth set.
“I told her when she was at the end of the bench midway through the fourth she had worked her whole life to get to this point,” Rosenthal said. “I told her not to back off now. We needed her.
“Obviously, I didn’t realize the last play was going to come down to her. People don’t realize how hard that last play was in general. When the ball hangs up in the air that long, you don’t know where it is coming down. It has not been her easiest play this season, but she has worked so hard to get better at it. To me that is the epitome of what this program is about.”
The best one yet
Lipscomb won its second straight ASUN Tournament title beating No. 3-seeded FGCU 3-1 Saturday night at Allen Arena. With the win the Bisons receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Lipscomb is 22-7 overall. FGCU closes out the season with a 27-6 record.
The Bisons won set one 25-16 and set two 25-23. FGCU came back after the match break and took set three with a dominating performance in a 25-17 win. The Bisons trailed for much of set four. They took over the lead at 21-20 and were able to hold off the Eagles for the win.
It was the sixth ASUN Tournament Championship for Rosenthal, and it was easily the most visibly excited and ecstatic he has been over a win in his career.
“It is the closest it has ever been for us in the championship game going down the stretch and winning it,” Rosenthal said. “I was trying to keep my calm. I thought we had it there coming down to the second to the last point. I literally jumped out of my chair.”
The Bisons trailed by five points at 18-13 in set four.
“I had told them we didn’t have to get the points back in the fourth set all at once,” Rosenthal said. “At times that is what we were trying to do.
“We just had to chip away at it and that is what we did. On my scouting report it said `stay in the moment and trust and believe in what you do.’ ”
Outside hitter Carlyle Nusbaum collected a double-double with 17 kills and 13 digs. Her 17 kills were a match high.
Racich gives energy boost
Right side Taylor Racich, who came to Lipscomb this season from Pepperdine for her final year of indoor volleyball, added 16 kills and hit .414 with only four errors on 29 attacks. She also led the match with two service aces.
In the fourth set she led the Bisons with five kills and was an emotional spark for her teammates.
“I knew we needed energy,” Racich said as she hugged Tristan, her twin sister. “When we play with energy, a passion for the game and we work hard, we have it. In the third set we weren’t using our energy at all and we didn’t use it in the fourth set until the very end.
“In pressure situations like this you can’t think. You have to just go all out. It was a fight. We both wanted it. We knew FGCU was going to go all out.”
Rosenthal called Racich’s performance a “phenomenal effort.
“It is one of the craziest stories I have been a part of,” Rosenthal said. “She has been here for one season and she has been so special.
“We had a talk a couple of weeks ago about her energy. She has such an unbelievable personality. I felt like she could bring a little more to the table. It was a huge night for her all over the place.”
No doubting Thomas
Another conduit of energy and emotion was libero Brittany Thomas. Rosenthal told her early in the match that she was going to have to be an energy source for her teammates. Not only did she make a match-high 15 digs, but she was truly a team leader on the court.
“The job for me, Lauren Anderson and Jenny or any defensive player is to pass the ball,” Thomas said. “If you don’t pass the ball, you can’t do much. This game is simply serve and pass. That is what gets points started. If you can’t do one of them, it is going to be tough.
“I also want to be vocal on the court. I want to make sure my teammates are working cohesively and together. I want to make sure they know what we need to be doing.”
True team effort
Setter Kayla Ostrom, playing her last game at Allen Arena, made 28 assists and added 13 digs for a double-double. Setter Morgan Elmore finished with 19.
Outside hitter Lauren Anderson came close to a double-double with eight kills and eight digs.
“I can’t say enough about these girls,” Rosenthal said. “The fourth set alone was just huge.
“What a cool group. What a fun group. It was a complete team effort. It was everybody. It is what our program is all about. It is so neat to be a part of this.”
- Nusbaum, the ASUN Player of the Year, was also named the tournament’s most valuable player. Joining her on the All-Tournament team were Racich, Thomas and Ostrom.
- This will be Lipscomb’s seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament.
- Nusbaum has been in double figures in kills in 27 of 28 matches.
- Nusbaum has 21 match highs in kills, with one tie.
- This was the 10th double-double for Nusbaum and the fourth for Ostrom this season.
- Thomas has been in double figures in digs in 25 matches. This was her 20th match high.
- The Bisons have won 12 matches in a row.
Next up: Lipscomb will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Dec. 1-3. The Bisons will know their opponent and the location of their match Nov. 26.