FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The No. 12 Saint Leo volleyball team withstood one final rally by the host Nova Southeastern Sharks, but the Lions managed to push through for the 3-1 (25-13, 25-20, 23-25, 25-21) win to claim a share of the program's first-ever Sunshine State Conference title.
The Lions (28-3, 15-1 SSC) looked prepared to take the final match of the regular season in rather convincing fashion as they quickly breezed through the first two sets, leading the first one from the first serve to the final kill and only allowing NSU to knot the score three times in the second.
In position for the sweep, the Lions suddenly found themselves facing a reenergized Shark team that stayed point-for-point with SLU throughout the beginning of the third set. With both teams looking for a break in the set, Nova Southeastern (19-10, 10-6 SSC) capitalized on SLU attack errors and well-placed kills to go on a 7-3 run to take a commanding 12-8 lead.
It suddenly appeared that everything was going the way of the hosts as NSU struck true on nearly every attack and also posted some key blocks to muzzle the Lions’ victory celebration as they pulled out the set three win.
The fourth set saw NSU continue to outscore the Lions and jump out to a 9-5 lead, really putting the SLU celebration on the shelf. Finally getting refocused, the Lions would knot the game at 15 and begin to trade points with NSU up to 20. Consecutive kills by Kaitlin McKenna and Emily Calderon-Reyes would put the Lions up 22-20 and silence the pro-Shark crowd while the fans dressed in Green & Gold would sense the victory.
Both teams traded points and then a Nova attack error would put the Lions at match point, but getting that final point would be a journey all its own.
Emily Calderon-Reyes lofted a serve to the back line that was picked up by the NSU defense and passed to their setter, who then laid a perfect set to Molly Sigerich just inside the right pin. Sigerich would unload on her attack and angle it just past two SLU blockers and on the wrong side of the sideline for what appeared to be the winning point, but both referees were unsure as to whether it contacted a Lion before falling out of bounds.
With the conference title now dependent on a consultation between the refs and the line judges, the arena would fall completely silent, awaiting the judgment. After nearly 30 seconds in discussion, the first referee would stand and signal an attack error on NSU and send the Lions into wild celebration as they finally had claimed the program’s first-ever title.
Calderon-Reyes and Danielle Bletso led the Lions with 17 and 13 kills each. Calderon-Reyes posted another double-double this season with 12 kills.
Senior libero Chelsea Armer had another solid day on defense as she dug 21 NSU attacks and senior setter Michelle Nogueras had 36 set-assists, 11 digs and a solo block.
Splitting the 2009 Sunshine State Conference Volleyball Championship with No. 7 Tampa, the Lions will now await the NCAA Tournament bids to be release late Sunday night. The seedings and location of the South Region Championship will be posted on SaintLeoLions.com once they are announced.