SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo University volleyball team has given all the Lion fans a whole lot to cheer about this season, but in their regular season finale on Saturday afternoon, the ladies gave their head coach a milestone award in their thrilling 3-2 (23-25, 31-29, 25-10, 23-25, 17-15) win over Barry University. The final win puts the team at .500 (8-8) in the tough Sunshine State Conference and a record 28-10 finish in the 38-game marathon season. It also puts the Lions in a prime position for postseason play.
With the win, Head Coach Sam Cibrone posted his 100th career victory in the Green & Gold, a milestone that has accelerated upward at a rapid pace with the last three 20-plus win seasons.
Things did not look promising early as the Lions, coming off an emotional Senior Day ceremony where they honored six seniors, started the delayed match seemingly a step behind the visiting Buccaneers as they saw the Barry jump out to a 10-4 lead. Saint Leo saw a stretch in the opening 14 points where they committed four-straight attack errors to make it easy for the Bucs to get the lead.
They shook off the haze and begin to claw back into the match, nearly drawing even at 18-17, but the persistent Bucs managed to keep the slim two-point lead, trading sideouts up to the 25-23 final.
Set Two became the rebound effort for the Lions, but Barry (15-12, 5-11) would not make it easy. With neither team gaining more than a three-point advantage, fans in attendance could see that this set would be headed for extra points as it went back-and-forth well into the 20’s. Almost as if both teams reverted to last year’s rules, where they played sets to 30-point conclusions, Barry and Saint Leo traded points through 29, with the Lions having five game-point chances, and battling back from a Barry game point at 29-28 to draw even at 29.
After a Buccaneer attack error, a rare triple block from the Lions trio of Chelsea Armer, Michelle Nogueras and Danielle Bletso created a wall that Barry middle-blocker Camilla Pagnan could not hit through. The Lions dropped the ball back on the Barry side to draw the match even.
The Buccaneers loss in Game 2 was deflating for the visitors as the momentum swing stayed the way of the Green & Gold throughout the entire third game. The Lions dominated play going on three and five-point runs that saw Saint Leo put a quick end to the set with the second largest margin of victory this season.
Set Four was nearly a carbon copy of the opener as Saint Leo surrendered an early lead to fall behind Barry. The Lions could not put together enough of a run to draw even and Barry forced a fifth set on Senior Day.
Those who were in attendance on Wednesday in the five set match against Florida Southern knew what they were in for. After the Lions surrendered an early lead, Barry did the same once the score hit double-digits, as the Lions overcame a three-point deficit to tie the score at 10. After that, the score would again stay tied all the way up to 14 when the Lions would have to fight back as Barry had the first match point. A kill by Leah Perry sent the match to extras where the Lions survived another BU match-point with a Bletso kill. After Jenna Jordan gave SLU the lead, Bletso would close things out as she dropped a ball just inside the 10-foot line to claim the final match of the regular season.
Four Lions posted double-figure kills as Kaitlin McKenna posted a .517 attack percentage with 17 kills. Jordan and Bletso had 15 kills and Armer posted her third double-double of the season with 14 kills and 14 digs.
Junior setter Michelle Nogueras had a double-double as well with 65 set-assists and a team-leading 21 digs as the Lions hit an amazing .322 as a team and posted 16 blocks in the five-game thriller.
The program’s first season sweep of Barry put them in a promising position for a third-straight NCAA Tournament berth. Lion fans, who have seemingly been holding their breath this entire week with the back-to-back five set thrillers, will be on the edge of their seats again Sunday night as the NCAA will announce the postseason bids. The selection show will start at 10:00 p.m. EST on the NCAA’s website at NCAA.com.