BILOXI, Miss.- Behind a balanced offensive effort, the Loyola New Orleans volleyball team (23-10) earned a 3-1 victory Friday night over Southern Wesleyan in the first round of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament. It was a great win for the Wolfpack as the Worriers knocked off Loyola last season in the conference tournament.
“Tonight was a nice win for the team,” said head coach Tommy Harold. “We were excited to start out on the right foot in the tournament. Tournament time is different than the regular season, and as a team we need to embrace those differences and make them work to our advantage.”
Three Wolfpack players posted double-digit kill numbers on the match. All-Freshman Team members Lauren Brand and O’Neal McMullan led the ‘Pack, Brand with 18 and McMullan with 16. All-Division sophomore middle blocker Sabrina Stansberry added 10 to round out Loyola’s kill leaders. All-Conference standout Samantha Worsham garnered her 20th double-double this season with 47 assists and 18 digs. Worsham also produced four service aces putting her total aces this season at 64. All-Division senior Amanda Oldani led the defense with 14 digs while freshman Becca Burnett added 11.
The Warriors quickly got on the board taking the first two points, and eventually went up 6-2. Both teams traded points for a bit, but Southern Wesleyan seemed in control as they kept their lead above two points for the entire set, eventually winning 25-21.
As sloppy as the ‘Pack looked the first set, they looked that much better the second going up 9-2 in the early stages. The Warriors bounced back with a couple kills, but they could not contain Loyola as they went on a 9-4 run going up 18-10. Despite these two amazing stretches, Southern Wesleyan slowly crept back. The Warriors hung in there scoring points off Loyola errors and eventually were down only one point. With the score 24-23 McMullan delivered the decisive set winning kill as the Wolfpack took the second set to even the match at 1-1.
Loyola again quickly jumped on the board going up 4-0 in the third set; however, Southern Wesleyan jumped right back scoring five straight points to take the lead. The entire set remained close throughout with 10 ties and seven lead changes. The Warriors eventually took the lead in the middle of the set 14-17 and eventually went up 15-20. With Southern Wesleyan containing all the momentum, Loyola stormed back with kills from Brand, Stansberry and junior All-Division outside hitter Kailey Tuthill to tie the set up at 21-21. Loyola and Southern Wesleyan traded the next two points, and the set remained tied at 22 all, but kills from Tuthill and Worsham put the ‘Pack up by 2 with the score 24-22. Despite a Southern Wesleyan kill to put them within a point, Tuthill downed the set winning point putting Loyola on top 25-23.
With the ‘Pack up two sets to one, the team seemed to relax and settle down in the fourth set. Worsham got Loyola off to a fast start serving for an ace for the set’s first point. The set’s beginning was close as the Warriors remained within one point of the Wolfpack. With the score 8-7, Loyola went on a scoring rampage with a 7-2 run to set the score at 15-10. Southern Wesleyan hung in there with back-to-back kills but a McMullan ace and kills from Brand and Stansberry set the ‘Pack apart as Loyola took the fourth set 25-15 and the match 3-1.
Amber Garrett led Southern Wesleyan with 14 kills, hit .353, and had four blocks. Hayley Hoover dished out 38 kills, and Kelsey Deerinwater dug a match-high 20 attacks.
“Tomorrow will be a big test against a team that has earned their national ranking,” added Harold. “It will take a consistent effort across the board to give ourselves an opportunity to advance.”
The ‘Pack heads to the conference semi-finals Saturday afternoon at 12:30 to take on number four ranked Lee. Live stats will be online on the conference website at http://www.ssacsports.com. For all the latest news on Loyola athletics, follow the Wolfpack on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/loyolawolfpack) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/loyolawolfpack). For additional information, please call (504)864-PACK.