TAMPA, Fla. – AWESOME!!!
That’s the only word that could properly describe what happened in Tampa on Thursday afternoon as the Saint Leo University volleyball team rebounded from a 7-1 fifth-set deficit to stun the #2 seed Florida Southern College Moccasins 15-13 as the Lions moved on to the second round of the NCAA Playoffs for the first time in program history.
The #7 seeded Lions won 3-2 (20-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-16, 15-13) and move on to face Nova Southeastern on Friday at 5:00 p.m. at the Bob Martinez Sports Center on the campus of the University of Tampa.
After trading sets through the first four games the Lions took the match into a fifth set for the third consecutive time. No stranger to going a full five, with the Lions seeing a full match 10 times this season, Head Coach Sam Cibrone prepared his ladies for this familiar task, but was not expecting Florida Southern to come out on fire.
Even thought the momentum was on SLU’s side, it seemed that the Lions were caught off guard as the 14th-ranked team in the nation went 3-0 on the Lions and had it at 7-1 before Saint Leo fans could blink. The score would move to 8-2 before the magic that has seemingly followed the Green & Gold during all their sports in 2008, swooped in and helped made history.
The Lions would slowly whittle the lead down as Saint Leo began to put on what Cibrone phrased “a blocking clinic” as every attack by the Mocs was met with Lion hands, sending the ball back to Southern’s side. Before fans knew it, Saint Leo was within one at 9-8, going on a 6-1 run to nearly tie the score.
Suddenly, FSC regrouped to notch two points, benefitting off of a SLU service error and a kill to go up 11-8, where they stood just four points away from ending the Lions’ season and moving to the next round.
This was beginning to feel like déjà vu for fans in the Green & Gold as the Lions were in this exact position last year before falling to the Mocs, but this year’s team decided to write a new ending to the script.
Junior Chelsea Armer, who was all over the court during the entire match, picked up a resounding kills to put the score at 11-9, then toed the back line and proceeded to notch a service ace along with a Jenna Jordan kill to tie the set at 11.
With the excitement building in the Bob Martinez Center, FSC outside hitter Julia Borecka silenced Lions’ fans with a kill of her own to put the Mocs back on top 12-11, but the lead was short-lived, as a Moccasin attack error knotted the score and got the arena rocking once again.
Another huge block by Kaitlin McKenna and Michelle Nogueras gave Saint Leo their first lead at 13-12 and put things on the edge of bedlam as now the Lions were just two points away.
McKenna put SLU on the edge with a monstrous kill down the middle of the court as the score went to 14-12. Florida Southern answered with a Borecka kill to set things up for the thrilling final point.
It was a ‘fun to watch’ point that sent the match and the SLU fans over the edge of craziness as the Lions picked up the Moccasin serve, passed it to Nogueras, saw Nogueras set the ball to McKenna and saw McKenna blast home the point to start the wild celebration.
After the game concluded, the celebration that followed could have been given an entire recap of its own, but Lions’ fans knew one thing; the Saint Leo Lions were now heading into uncharted territory.
This is another historic day for Saint Leo as the Lions have only defeated Florida Southern twice in program history. The two wins came in the last two matches and the Lions are now 2-60 overall against the Mocs.
The Lions outhit the Mocs .270 to .263 and four Saint Leo players saw double-digit kills as McKenna led the way with 15. Armer added 14 and Sunshine State Conference Freshman of the Year Danielle Bletso contributed 13, along with a team-leading five assists. Jordan added 10 kills as well.
Nogueras managed to sneak in six kills to hit .556 and assisted on 43 attacks for a kill.
Saint Leo now looks toward that 5:00 p.m. match with Nova Southeastern, who swept the Lions during the regular season, to see if they can continue this great run of success that started after their last meeting with the Sharks.
The match will be carried live on the Saint Leo Lions AudioCast Network. Mike Farrant and Brian Johnston will bring you the play-by-play from the floor of the Bob Martinez Sports Center on the campus of the University of Tampa.