GREENSBORO, N.C. - The second-seeded Samford Bulldogs won the 2018 Southern Conference Volleyball Championship, its second in three years under head coach Keylor Chan, beating top-seed and regular-season champion ETSU 3-1 (28-26, 20-25, 25-21, 26-24) and earning an automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship on Sunday afternoon inside Fleming Gymnasium. The championship is Samford’s fourth in program history, all coming in the last eight seasons.
The two teams split the regular-season matchups as both teams won in five on their home courts after trailing 2-0. Samford’s victory over ETSU on Sept. 28 was the Bucs’ only loss of the regular-season conference slate (14-1). Samford advanced to the championship with a 3-1 quarterfinal win over Chattanooga and a sweep of third-seeded Furman in the semifinals.
Samford (19-14) scored first on a kill from junior Kelsi Hobbs to open the match. The Bulldogs pulled ahead and took an 11-7 on a kill by Sierra Rayzor, but ETSU stormed back and won seven of the next eight points to take the lead 14-12 and force Chan to call a timeout. Hobbs answered with a kill out of the timeout, her fourth of the set, and pulled Samford within one. The teams traded points until Samford took a 19-17 lead and ETSU called timeout to regroup. Samford tacked on another out of the timeout and went up three on a service ace by Courtney Johnson.
The Bulldogs held on to the three-point lead and with the Bulldogs up 23-20, ETSU head coach Lindsey Devine used her second timeout of the set. The Bucs scored the first two out the timeout on a kill by Mariah McPartland and an attack error by Hobbs and pulled within one. Lauren Deaton, the 2018 SoCon Freshman of the Year, gave Samford set point, 24-22, but SoCon Player of the Year Leah Clayton answered for the Bucs. On Samford’s second set point, an attack error by Hobbs tied it at 24 and Samford took its second timeout. The teams traded points, with ties again at 25 and 26, before an attack error by Clayton and a kill by Bulldog middle blocker Shayla gave Samford a 28-26 win. In total, the set featured 11 ties and six lead changes.
Samford took a 2-0 lead to begin the second set, but ETSU scored the next three to take a 3-2 lead, one the Bucs wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the set. Samford pulled within two at 20-18, but ETSU scored the next point on a kill by Clayton and finished off the set 25-20.
In the third set, it was ETSU who took a 2-0 lead to open. The teams swapped points until Samford got back-to-back kills from Krista Boesing, a member of the all-conference first team, and took a 14-11 advantage. ETSU fought back to tie the set at 17 and again at 18, but Samford scored the next two and Devine called her second timeout trailing 20-18. The deficit was too much for ETSU to overcome as Samford scored five of the final eight to win 25-21 and take a 2-1 lead.
ETSU again took a 2-0 lead to start the fourth set, but Samford took a 7-5 lead and Devine used an early timeout. Out of the break, Samford pushed the lead to 12-7 and Devine used her second and final timeout of the set. It worked, as the Bucs scored three straight to cut the lead to 10-12 and forced Chan to use his first timeout. From there, the match was intense and evenly matched. The teams traded points until ETSU took an 18-15 lead and Chan used his second timeout to regroup his squad. ETSU held the lead and pushed it to 20-17, but kills by Hobbs, Alana Scouten and Deaton tied it at 20. Samford and ETSU were tied at 21, 22, and 23 before a kill by Deaton gave Samford match point. AJ Lux had a kill for the Bucs and the teams were again tied, this time at 24. An attack error by Lux on the next play, followed by a kill for Boesing, gave Samford the 26-24 set win and the 3-1 win.
Four Bulldogs finished in double-digit kills, led by Deaton and Boesing with 17. Deaton, a freshman outside hitter, added 16 digs, the second-most on the team, to earn a double-double. Boesing finished with five of Samford’s nine blocks. Boesing was named to the all-tournament team, along with setter Taylor Anderton, who was named the Most Outstanding Player, and middle blocker Shayla Philip. Anderton, a senior, earned a double-double as she dished out 51 assists and had 12 digs, while Philip hit .381 with 11 kills. Hobbs also recorded a double-double with 11 kills and 12 digs.
Clayton led the Bucs with 24 kills, one short of her season high. She added 15 digs and hit .333 in the loss. Lux was right behind with 20 kills, while senior setter Alyssa Kvarta had 46 assists and 16 digs to pick up a double-double. Marija Popovic, the 2018 Libero of the Year, had 21 digs.
Samford will learn its NCAA tournament opponent at the selection show on Sunday, Nov. 25. The show is set for 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
2018 Southern Conference Volleyball Championship
Fleming Gymnasium ▪ Greensboro, N.C.
Friday, Nov. 16
Match 1: #9 The Citadel 3, #8 Western Carolina 1 (SDN/Roku)
Match 2: #4 Mercer 3, #5 Wofford 0 (SDN/Roku)
Match 3: #1 ETSU 3, #9 The Citadel 0 (SDN/Roku)
Match 4: #2 Samford 3, #7 Chattanooga 1 (SDN/Roku)
Match 5: #3 Furman 3, #6 UNCG 0 (SDN/Roku)
Saturday, Nov. 17
Match 6: #1 ETSU 3, #4 Mercer 0 (SDN/Roku)
Match 7: #2 Samford 3, #3 Furman 0 (SDN/Roku)
Sunday, Nov. 18
Match 8: #2 Samford 3, #1 ETSU 1 (ESPN+)
Carris Campbell, Furman
Roberta Todd, Mercer
Leah Clayton, ETSU
Alyssa Kvarta, ETSU
Taylor Anderton, Samford
Krista Boesing, Samford
Shayla Philip, Samford
Most Outstanding Player
Taylor Anderton, Samford
Pinnacle Award Recipient (highest cumulative GPA among championship-eligible student-athletes on winning team)
Krista Boesing, Samford