BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (SunBeltSports.org) – Surviving a marathon fourth-set, No. 5 Arkansas State prevailed, 3-1 (25-23, 25-18, 22-25, 30-28) over No. 4 UALR on Thursday to clinch the final spot in the Sun Belt Conference Volleyball semi-finals at E.A. Diddle Arena.
It marked the first postseason win for ASU (19-13, 8-6 SBC) since 2000, as the Red Wolves rallied behind 21 kills and an astounding .541 hitting percentage from Kelsey Sullivan. Three other ASU attackers tallied double-digit kills, as Jasmine Terry recorded 16, Marie Hadar 14 and Kelsie Hodges 14.
All-SBC First-Team honoree Allison Kearney registered a double-double for the Red Wolves with a match-high 66 kills and 12 digs. All-SBC Second-Team winner Megan Baska anchored the defense with a match-best 17 digs.
UALR finished the season 13-14 overall and 9-5 in league play after earning a share of the SBC West Division crown. Eva Xie stood out for the Trojans with 21 kills, while SBC Player of the Year Edina Begic posted a double-double with 16 kills and 11 digs. Marleene de Zoete also notched a double-double with 51 assists and 15 digs.
The teams went point-for-point for the entire first set with neither team ever leading by more than two. At the 18-18 mark ASU jumped ahead 20-18, but UALR matched it, 20-20. The back-and-forth battle continued up to 23-23 when the Red Wolves took advantage of a hitting error and a kill by Terry ended a very close set, 25-23. ASU hit for a .500 percentage in the game, while UALR was at .316.
The Red Wolves got off to an early 9-6 lead in the second frame and extended it to 14-9 after a pair of kills by Sullivan. The Trojans cut the deficit to 18-16, but ASU responded by taking the next five to take control at 23-16. The Red Wolves kept the momentum going and closed it out, 25-18, after a kill by Hodges.
The Trojans trailed 9-7 in the third set when they went on a 4-0 spurt highlighted by Adisa Hodzic block to climb ahead, 11-9. UALR was still ahead at 16-15 when it took a pair for a slight 18-15 edge after a Xie spike. UALR led 23-19 when the Red Wolves went on a 3-0 run to come within a point at 23-22, but another kill by Xie gave the Trojans set-point at 24-22. A block-assist by Daniele Souza Moura and Xie finished the frame for UALR, 25-22.
UALR trailed 9-8 in the fourth went it took four in a row to grab the 12-9 lead after big attacks from Begic. Still ahead at 18-16, UALR extended its lead to 21-16 after getting the best of a few long rallies. ASU continued to fight and took the next three points to make it 21-19, forcing a Trojan timeout. UALR took the next point, but the Red Wolves went on another 3-0 run to tie it, 22-22, after good front-row work from Sullivan. Xie responded with two-straight kills for the Trojans to go back up 24-22 but Sullivan again came through to tie it, 24-24. ASU saved its fifth set-point down 27-28, and took the next two to prevail 30-28.
ASU will take on top-seeded and 17th-ranked WKU at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in the semi-finals. The winner of the tournament earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Both semi-final matches will be streamed live for free on http://www.sunbeltsports.org/VIDEO/LiveStream.aspx. The championship match will be nationally televised on ESPN3.