STATESBORO, GA (astateredwolves.com) – The top-seeded Arkansas State volleyball team registered 17 blocks to Appalachian State’s two and rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Mountaineers 3-2 (26-28, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21, 15-12) in the 2015 Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship match Sunday at Hanner Fieldhouse in Statesboro, Ga., to clinch its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999.
The comeback began when the third set started out strong for the Red Wolves as the team took a 10-6 advantage to force Appalachian State to call a timeout. The Mountaineers battled back to within two at 12-10, but A-State went on a 4-0 run, capped by a Lindsay Cline ace, to take control again at 16-10. The Apps wouldn’t get closer than four points the rest of the set that ended on a Drew Jones kill to give Arkansas State a 25-18 win and get on the board in the match.
A-State jumped out to an early 10-7 edge in set four on a Darby Graff and Kariana Castanon-Hill block and stretched its lead to 16-12 on another block, this one by Mallory Warrington and Castanon-Hill. App State battled back to within one point at 22-21, but three straight kills by the Red Wolves gave the team a 25-21 set victory.
The fifth and decisive set began evenly with both teams battling to a 5-5 tie before a 5-0 run by the Red Wolves, capped by a Graff kill put some space between the two teams. The Mountaineers battled to within two points at 14-12, but a Carlisa May kill gave A-State a 15-12 set victory and finished the comeback for a 3-2 match win.
“This was a complete and total team win,” A-State head volleyball coach David Rehr said. “It took the whole team this weekend to accomplish this and I’m so proud of each and every player. You have to give some credit to Appalachian State too, they are a very good team. They are very talented and gave us everything we wanted today.”
May led the team in kills with 18 on a .311 hitting percentage, while Jones (14) and Graff (11) also tallied double-digit kills. Castanon-Hill led the team with a .474 hitting percentage and had nine kills, while also registering a career-high and team season-high 11 blocks. Graff also added a career-high 10 blocks for her first career double-double as five A-State players had blocks to help the team tie a season high with 17 blocks.
Warrington dished out 55 assists, while Jessica Heuertz led the team with 23 digs. Hannah Robey (12) and Jones (10) also had double-digit kills, while Jones recorded her sixth double-double of the season. Cline, Jones, Kelsey Reis, and Nicole Knight each had a service ace.
May was named the SBC Tournament MVP after recording 44 kills (4.00 per set) on a .379 hitting percentage in the three matches. Jones and Warrington were named All-SBC Tournament. Jones had 36 kills and 20 digs during the three-day competition, while Warrington handed out 127 assists (11.55 per set) and had 37 digs to go along with six blocks.
The Red Wolves jumped out to an early 5-1 edge in set one after a Graff and Castanon-Hill block, but Appalachian State battled back to take a 17-15 advantage later in the set. The score remained close throughout with A-State holding set point at 24-23, but the Red Wolves couldn’t close it out and the score was 26-26 after a Reis kill. However, App State scored two consecutive points to claim a 28-26 set win.
Arkansas State started fast in set two by racing out to an 8-3 lead after a May block to force the Apps to take a timeout. Once again the Mountaineers battled back to within one point several times before finally tying the set at 18-18. A Jones kill put A-State ahead 19-18, but Appalachian State finished the set on a 7-0 run to take set two 25-19.
Arkansas State will now wait for its seeding in the NCAA Tournament with the selection show set for Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU.