PENSACOLA, Fla. – The Saint Leo volleyball team managed to pick up their first definitive victory of 2009 as they upended the 19th-ranked host University of West Florida 3-1 (25-21, 20-25, 25-22, 27-25) in the first day of the 2009 South Region Crossover Tournament on Friday night.
The Lions picked up tremendous efforts from numerous starters, and they would get going early as SLU surprised the hosts from Pensacola when they jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead, forcing the Argos to call a timeout. The Lions’ great start helped propel them to a first set triumph as they outhit their opponents .154 to .051 and did not allow the nation’s 19th-ranked team a single block.
It was West Florida who jumped out to a large lead in the second set. UWF led the Lions 12-6 before Saint Leo regrouped and scored seven of the next eight points, including a dominating kill by Kaitlin McKenna to knot the set at 13. The Lions took a brief lead before the Argonauts responded to the Lions’ run by scoring seven of the next eight points to take a 20-15 lead.
The back-and-forth nature of the set was now obvious as SLU managed to tally five of the next six points to bring the match to 21-20, but West Florida responded by shutting the Lions down and knotting the match at 1-1.
The third set saw the Lions come out of the gates, surrendering a 7-1 lead to the hosts before Head Coach Sam Cibrone called a timeout to regroup his team. The speech from the Saint Leo coaching staff reenergized the volleyball ladies as they slowly marched back into the game, eventually knotting it at 13, which saw SLU outscore the Argos 12-5 and forcing UWF into a timeout.
It was back-and-forth again in the last few points of the set as the Lions managed to get the score to 23-21 before UWF exhausted their final timeout. The Argonauts scored the next point, but SLU responded with another McKenna kill and then an attack error from UWF finished the set in the Lions’ favor, giving Saint Leo a 2-1 lead in the match.
Neither team wanted to give an inch in the fourth set as the largest advantage either squad could gather was four points. West Florida took a 23-21 lead and Cibrone requested another timeout. The break again worked its magic as the Lions scored the next two points to knot the score for the sixth time in the set.
A West Florida kill had the Argos in position to win the set, but junior Leah Perry picked the most opportune time to get her only kill of the match as her cross-court attack hit just inside the sideline to again draw the score even.
Junior Bruna Rocha gave Saint Leo the lead when she blasted an overpassed ball back down on the court, a kill which put SLU in a position for the win. The game’s final serve, coming from the right hand of Corey Ryan, was a floater that clipped the net, but had just enough speed to inch over and fall in front of the West Florida back row to seal the win and send the Lions into a wild celebration.
McKenna and senior setter Michelle Nogueras earned the team award as McKenna blasted 20 kills and hit .349 and Nogueras posted another double-double with 47 assists and 16 digs. She was one of three Lions with double-doubles as Rocha had 10 kills and 13 digs while Emily Calderon-Reyes had 11 kills and 13 digs.
As a team, the Lions outblocked the host Argonauts 13-to-5 as Rocha added six block assists and McKenna assisted on seven stuffs.
The Lions, riding an emotional high from an undefeated Friday, will play two more matches on Saturday. SLU will face the University of North Alabama at 11:30 a.m. EDT and close out the tournament with a 4:00 p.m. EDT match with the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras.