BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The fourth-seeded Samford Bulldogs claimed the 2016 Southern Conference volleyball title on Monday night, defeating third-seeded Chattanooga, 3-1 (25-19, 20-25, 25-20, 25-22), at the Pete Hanna Center on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. With the win, the Bulldogs earned the program’s third conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
Samford senior outside hitter Erin Bognar garnered the 2016 Southern Conference Most Outstanding Player award after totaling 28 kills on 63 attempts with only seven errors to hit .333 on the night. Bognar also tallied 16 digs to notch a double-double for the champion Bulldogs. In addition to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Bognar made the All-Tournament team along with teammates Gabbi Greenwald and Kate Neisler.
Chattanooga was led by sophomore outside hitter Miranda Elpers and redshirt-sophomore Eden Murray, both of whom took home all-tournament honors. Elpers recorded nine kills, 10 digs and 3.0 blocks to closeout her sophomore campaign. Murray recorded nine kills on 18 attacks to hit an efficient .389 along with one dig and 1.0 block to closeout her red-shirt-sophomore campaign.
Samford came out the gate quickly, running off the first five points of the match to force a timeout from Mocs’ head coach Travis Filar. The Bulldogs’ opening spurt featured kills from Bognar (1), Greenwald (3) and Neisler (1). A kill from senior right side hitter Kristy Wieser out of the break got UTC on the board and initiated a 16-10 run for the Mocs, giving UTC the lead in the middle of the opening frame. Samford went on to score eight of the last nine points of the set, seven of which came consecutively, to take an early 1-0 lead. Bognar tallied 11 kills on 22 attempts to lead all players in set No. 1.
Both teams exchanged points to open the second set and remained close the whole way with neither team possessing more than a two-point advantage until Chattanooga freshman middle blocker Dani Szczepanski pummeled the ball on a pass from setter Madison Bergren, who recorded 12 assists in the second frame, to give the Mocs a 21-18 lead, prompting a Samford timeout. The Mocs went on to even the score, 1-1, heading into the 10-minute after back-to-back errors by Neisler and Bognar. With UTC junior setter Lauren Greenspoon behind the serving line, the Mocs were able to capitalize on a pass from sophomore libero Lindsey Farrell, setting up Bergren for the kill to claim the point and set.
Coming out the break, Bognar notched her 16th kill of the match with a tip over a pair of Mocs on the front line to get the Samford crowd energized. The third set was separated by no more than one-point until the Bulldogs tallied five straight points to take a 15-10 lead over the Mocs. Chattanooga cut the lead to two, 16-14, after three consecutive scores, but the Bulldogs’ margin was too much to overcome as Samford took the set, 25-20, and the lead heading into the fourth set. After three sets played, the Bulldogs had three players with double-digit kills in Bognar (19), Greenwald (11) and Neisler (10). Wieser and Szczepanski led the Mocs with nine each.
The Mocs opened the fourth frame with a pair of kills from Wieser and Elpers, both of which were assisted from Bergren. The Bulldogs responded by connecting on eight of the next nine points to give Samford an 8-3 cushion. Chattanooga responded with a run of their own later in the fourth set, going on a 10-2 run to take a 20-17 lead. Then Bognar and Neisler took over the set to eventually seal the championship for the Bulldogs. Samford took eight of the last 10 points with Bognar and Neisler combining for five points. The Bulldogs claimed the final five points of the championship match before piling on the court in celebration with the scoreboard reading 25-22 in favor of Samford.
Joining Bognar, Greenwald, Neisler, Elpers and Murray on the All-Tournament team were ETSU’s Rylee Milhorn and UNCG’s Jasmine Jones.
Samford, now 21-13, awaits its seed in the NCAA tournament with NCAA selection show scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 27 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
2016 Southern Conference Volleyball Championship
Pete Hanna Center ▪ Birmingham, Ala.
Saturday, Nov. 19
Match 1: No. 8 Furman 3, No. 9 The Citadel 0
Match 2: No. 4 Samford 3, No. 5 Wofford 0
Match 3: No. 1 ETSU 3, Furman 1
Match 4: No. 2 UNCG 3, Western Carolina 2
Match 5: No. 3 Chattanooga 3, Mercer 1
Sunday, Nov. 20
Match 6: No. 4 Samford 3, No. 1 ETSU 0
Match 7: No. 3 Chattanooga 3, No. 2 UNCG 2
Monday, Nov. 21
Match 8: No. 4 Samford 3, No. 3 Chattanooga 1
Rylee Milhorn, ETSU
Jasmine Jones, UNCG
Miranda Elpers, Chattanooga
Eden Murray, Chattanooga
Erin Bognar, Samford
Gabbi Greenwald, Samford
Kate Neisler, Samford
Most Outstanding Player
Erin Bognar, Samford
Pinnacle Award Recipient (highest cumulative GPA among championship-eligible student-athletes on winning team)
Krista Boesing, Samford