And now the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship, pitting the Cougars of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville against the top-seeded and homestanding Morehead State Eagles. It's a match that on paper isn't much of one. Morehead State ran roughshod over the OVC this season, entering at 26-7 on the year. SIUE, the #7 seeds in the OVC tournament, are 14-17 coming into tonight's match. Despite the disparity in records, both teams need a win tonight to end up in the NCAA tournament; Morehead State's RPI is in the 90's, which is way too low for at-large consideration.
The teams traded sideouts for a stretch to begin the match. Lindsey Roth's serve on 3-2 Eagles provided for the first service point, as the Cougars' attempted return hit the antenna. The next rally featured a long hit by Kristen Torre, putting Morehead State up three. Eagle setter Bailey Nichol then found the floor on a dump up the middle to put the homestanding Eagles ahead by four. Then a more regular ace for Roth made it 7-2. I thought we might see a timeout there, but that was not the case. The Cougars got their sideout with a quick hitter on the left side, but Morehead immediately got the point right back. A long cross-court set by Mallory Mangun resulted in Taylor Held hitting straight into the net on the left side, and SIUE did call their first timeout there.
The roll for the Eagles continued after the timeout, as Held's attempt at a cross-court cut shot failed to clear the net. Aryn Bohannon then got on the board, extending the Eagles to 11-3. The lead reached 12-3 before Courtney Smith's service error finally sided the Cougars out. It was doubly a gift, as the first contact had been SIUE's big problem during her service run. They gave the point right back, though, as their serve on 12-4 also flew long. The Eagles got their lead to double digits for the first time at 14-4, before Held got the sideout off the back row and out. SIUE claimed a long rally on 14-5, ending with a kill from the middle by Kelsey Augustine to get them a point closer. They went back to her on 14-6, and got the same result. On 14-7, Bohannon hit into the Cougar block to make it to 14-8. The missed serve ended the run, as Morehead State still had a very comfortable lead.
From 17-10, SIUE played a couple of kinda careless points, getting the Eagles to a nine-point lead. The first was a freeball that was played over the net by a back-row setter (a pretty clear-cut violation — usually back-row calls aren't so plain to spot). The second was just a dreadfully poor pass, giving Morehead State the ace. Their second timeout occurred there, traling 19-10.
Leslie Schellhaas served way long coming back from the timeout, and the Cougars added one service point to make it a seven-point set at 20-13. As the set wore on, it looked like Morehead State were playing at maybe 90% speed, known they had the set well in hand. They mostly played sideout volleyball the rest of the set. A service ace extended ther lead back to nine on 23-14, and they reached set point at 24-15. Another sevice error got SIUE off the hook at first, and Alex Fitzmorris' long hit from the middle made it 24-17. Cori Harris hit straight into the block on the right side, but had the block land out to keep set 1 going. Finally, Bohannon ended the set with a 25-18 final.
The Cougars got a first-ball sideout to begin set 2, giving them their first lead of the night. But Morehead State quickly got a service point to claim the lead themselves, at 2-1. Bad passing and some miscommunications on the Cougar side of the net led to a free ball for the Eagles, which found the floor on the other side. But then the passing started to get a lot better for SIUE, meaning a lot more in-system rallies, and some consecutive sideouts. Harris' big jump serve resulted in an ace, giving the Cougars another lead at 6-5. She went for it again on her next serve — why not? — and had it land long. On the next rally, she tried for a kill swing on an off-balance hit from the back-row, and hit long again, giving the lead back to Morehead State. On 7-6, Morehead State found a great blocking mismatch, getting Bohannon up against Mangun on a 1-on-1. That almost always favours the hitter, especially against a setter as the lone blocker. It touched off the Eagles' first real run of points in the set, leading to SIUE's timeout on 10-6.
Feeding Augustine rally after rally, the Cougars hung around in set 2, drawing to within 2 on 11-9. A big block for the Eagles on the rally at 13-10 made that margin short-lived, as they again went up by 4. A kill for Smith from the middle made it 15-10, and the Cougars called their second timeout.
It looked like SIUE were in system on the first rally back, getting a good pass off Schellhaas' serve, but the hit from Harris up the middle flew long. The next serve wasn't returned at all, an ace for Schellhaas to extend the lead to 17-10. The Cougars could only come back to within five, on a net fault by the Eagles and a good right-side double block, before Morehead State sided out again. Laura McDermott nailed the right-side slide play on 18-12, and it was a 7-point set once more. A block-out kill gave them their first 8-point lead at 20-12, and an overpass went straight into McDermott's waiting arms for the kill at 21-12. It went sideout after sideout from there to 23-14, when the Eagles got the kill from the right side to bring about set point. They needed just the one bite at the apple, as the Cougars overpassed and the Eagles won the joust on the left, for a 25-14 second set final.
SIUE again took an early lead in set 3, and led by two for the first time at 4-2 when Smith hit into the net. The next point also went the Cougars' way, with Morris hitting long from the right side. A couple of big double blocks by Smith and Nichol got the Eagles back to within a point on 5-4, and an aggressive serve by Roth led to a long hit on the SIUE side, tying the set. Another long hit from the Cougar left side gave Morehead State the lead on 7-6, and a sly setter dump made it 8-6. Bohannon's kill, her shot getting some funky spin off the top of the net, made it 9-6, and SIUE called timeout.
The Eagles made it to 10 first on the first rally after the timeout, with a hitting error by Alicia Streetar on the SIUE side getting them there. The Cougars failed to legally return the ball on the next rally, being called for 4 hits to make it 11-6. Harris' tentative pass on the next serve went way long and out of play for an ace, making it 12-6. Finally, a service error sided the Cougars out, but you can't rely on those. Bohannon immediately got the point back, again matching up with Cougar setter Mangun for an easy blocking mismatch. The Eagles got to a 7-point lead for the first time in the set at 15-8, with Fitzmorris finding the parquet following what looked like a bad set. Great reach was the difference. SIUE called their last timeout there.
The Cougars made a nice little run after the timeout, getting the sideout and three on serve to crawl within 15-12. That prompted Morehead State's first timeout of not just the set but the evening. Mangun's run on serve continued after the timeout, with a great aggressive serve leading to a free ball from the Eagle side. Torre, who'd had a pretty difficult match to that point, got the kill to draw the Cougars within two. A solo block for Bohannon against Harris got the Eagles their sideout on 16-13. After the Cougar sideout, Haley Norris went back to serve and found the left-back corner for an ace. Her next serve was another ace, a passing breakdown on the Morehead State side. That tied the score at 16-all. A kill for Harris, and SIUE had the lead at 17-16.
Smith got the kill off the block and out to keep the Cougars from taking a two-point lead. On the next rally, Fitzmorris again played what appeared a wide set, putting Morehead State back on top at 18-17. A service ace for Roth gave th Eagles the two-point advantage again on 20-18. On the next rally, Harris hit into either the block or the net. Didn't much matter; the ball went straight down afterward, and Morehead State inched toward victory. Streetar hit into the double block on the left side, following a bit of a trap set, and the Eagles on the court and their supporters in the stands roared with delight.
Bohannon's cross-court kill made it match point at 24-20. Mangun staved off the first on what looked to be an overpass, but she skillfully played it over on 2 for the kill. Then on 24-21, Bohannon hit into the net to save the next match point for SIUE. I imagine Morehead State would have called timeout had the Cougars come a point closer, but it was moot. The final point was a frantic scramble, resulting in a 4-hits call against SIUE.
#1 Morehead State d. #7 SIU-Edwardsville (25-16, 25-14, 25-22)
Cougar outside hitter Taylor Held was injured on the play, staying prone on the floor for a good couple of minutes as the other players shook hands under the net. It appeared that her feet went out from under her as she pursued the ball on that final play, and she hit her head on the arena floor. You hope it's not what it appears — a sure concussion — but if it is, that she gets the necessary medical care. In that sense, it's probably good that it was the last point of the match.
Bohannon led all scorers with 13 kills, the only player on either side to get into double figures. McDermott was also a force, with 9 on an errorless 12 for a .750 efficiency. Harris led the way for SIUE with 9 kills, but had 6 errors counting against her as well. The team hitting efficiencies showed a stark disparity, with the Cougars hitting just .101 and Morehead State a healthy .305. The Eagles' 10 total team blocks to just 2 for the Cougars tend to back this up, as do the almost double quantity of attacking errors that the Cougars had over the Eagles.
Congratulations to the Morehead State Eagles for winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship, and for advancing to the NCAA tournament.