CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Playing in its first Southern Conference Championship final since 1995, the second-seeded ETSU Bucs swept No. 4 Wofford 3-0 (25-21, 25-12, 26-24) on Sunday afternoon inside the Ramsey Center to clinch the 2017 Southern Conference volleyball title and earn an automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship. The SoCon title is the third in program history and first for the Bucs since 1992. The championship is the second for 15-year head coach Lindsey Devine, who guided the Bucs to the Atlantic Sun tournament championship in 2012. The Bucs swept all three of their games in the tournament.
The two programs split their regular season matchups but it was all ETSU in the championship match, with the Bucs relinquishing the lead just three times during the entire match. All three lead changes, as well as five ties, came in the back-and-forth third set.
ETSU (19-11) scored six of the first eight points in the first set to jump out to a quick 6-2 lead. The Bucs continued to build on that early lead, pushing their advantage to five before Wofford (22-11) scored three straight points to pull within two. ETSU took a 15-11 lead into the first media timeout, following a kill by lone senior Rylee Milhorn and junior Braedyn Tutton’s third block of the set. Following another kill by Milhorn, the Bucs held a 19-15 lead but the Terriers roared back, going on a 3-0 spurt to cut ETSU’s lead down to one and forcing Coach Devine to call a timeout. The Bucs responded out of the timeout, reeling off four of the next five points to take control with a 23-19 lead and eventually claim the first set 25-21 behind eight kills from Milhorn.
The second set started out close, with three ties but a four-point spurt allowed ETSU to pull away and take an 8-4 lead and force Wofford head coach Lynze Roos to call a timeout. That lead quickly grew to 10 after the Bucs scored five unanswered points, giving ETSU a 17-7 lead. The Bucs continued to pour it on, extending their lead to 21-9 and clinching the second set, 25-12.
Despite a 10-minute intermission between the second and third sets, ETSU stayed hot and raced out to a 9-3 lead. The Bucs then stretched that lead to 19-13 after a kill by Leah Clayton. The Terriers mounted a gritty comeback though, pulling within two after reeling off four consecutive points and benefitting from an ETSU service error. The Bucs responded to the run with two points, making it 22-18. 2017 Co-player of the Year Catie Cronister then caught fire for the Terriers, crushing three kills in four plays to tie the game at 22-22. Wofford took the lead for the first time in the set soon after thanks to a kill by Kara Shacklette. Kalee Vanderhost responded with a kill of her own to tie things at 23-23 and then Cronister tallied another kill to make it 24-23. But the Bucs scored the next three points to clinch the third set and win the 2017 Southern Conference Volleyball Championship.
The 2017 Most Outstanding Player, Milhorn finished with 10 kills in the match, eight of which came in the first set, and nine digs. It is the second consecutive year Milhorn has been selected to the all-tournament team. Fellow all-tournament team member Clayton led the Bucs with a double-double, finishing with 14 kills and 13 digs. 2017 Freshman and Libero of the Year Marija Popovic tallied a match-high 21 digs in the win. As a team, ETSU finished with a .252 attack percentage, including an impressive .326 in the third set.
Tournament runner-up Wofford placed both Cronister and Colleen Reilly on the all-tournament team. Cronister led the Terriers with 14 kills and 10 digs, posting her 14th double-double of the season. Reilly finished with seven kills while Taylor Gill and Lorissa King both recorded double-digit digs. King also posted a double-double as she dished out 30 assists.
2017 Southern Conference Volleyball Championship
Ramsey Center ▪ Cullowhee, N.C.
Friday, Nov. 17
Match 1: #8 Mercer 3, #9 The Citadel 1
Match 2: #4 Wofford 3, #5 Samford 2
Match 3: #1 Furman 3, #8 Mercer 1
Match 4: #2 ETSU 3, #7 Western Carolina 0
Match 5: #3 UNCG 3, #6 Chattanooga 1
Saturday, Nov. 18
Match 6: #4 Wofford 3, #1 Furman 0
Match 7: #2 ETSU 3, #3 UNCG 0
Sunday, Nov. 19
Match 8: #2 ETSU 3, #4 Wofford 0
Leah Clayton, ETSU
Rylee Milhorn, ETSU
Alyssa Kvarta, ETSU Jamila Johnson, Furman
Ashley Muench, UNCG
Catie Cronister, Wofford
Colleen Reilly, Wofford
Most Outstanding Player
Rylee Milhorn, ETSU
Pinnacle Award Recipient (highest cumulative GPA among championship-eligible student-athletes on winning team)
Kaela Massey, ETSU