SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo volleyball team passed another big Sunshine State Conference test as they defeated Lynn University 3-1 (25-20, 24-26, 25-14, 25-15) in conference action at a rowdy Marion Bowman Activities Center on Friday night.
The Lions managed to keep their SSC record unblemished behind a triple-double from senior setter Michelle Nogueras as she proved to be the catalyst in the Saint Leo attack. The native of Cayey, Puerto Rico dumped down 12 kills, had 41 set-assists and notched 10 digs. Add just two errors in 21 attempts, and Nogueras posted a stunning .476 attack percentage.
Saint Leo (12-2, 3-0 SSC) would need their veterans to step up as they were facing a Fighting Knights team who had knocked off the 21st-ranked Eckerd Tritons just a week previous. The Lions started the first set by jumping out to a 10-5 lead as they saw all but one Saint Leo player step to the service line multiple times on their first trip through the rotation. After SLU managed to stretch the score to 19-13 the Fighting Knights would attempt to mount a small rally, scoring four of the next six points to bring the score to 21-18 and forcing the Lions to use a timeout. The break was all Saint Leo would needs as an LU attack error, teamed with two blistering shots from Kaitlin McKenna and a kill by Bruna Rocha handed the Lions the set victory.
The nearly 400 fans in attendance saw the second set become a back-and-forth battle through the first 10 points before the Lions broke the 13-13 tie by scoring seven of the next ten points to take a 20-16 lead. Using a timeout, the Fighting Knights again mounted a rally and whittled the deficit down to just one point. After trading side-outs, Lynn (11-4, 1-2 SSC) capitalized on an attack error by the Lions to knot the game at 23; that marked the first time the Lions did not hold the lead since the score was 14-14. SLU would retake the advantage a point later from a kill by Rocha, but Lynn would rattle off the next three points to steal the second set and knot the match at one.
After the long break between sets, both teams would again go point-for-point through the first eight in set three, but SLU would manage to gain a slight advantage with back-to-back kills from McKenna. It was a lead that they would slowly extend until the Fighting Knights were forced to burn a timeout with the score 18-14 in favor of the Green & Gold. The break did not work out for Lynn as consecutive attack errors put the score at 20-14 in the Lions’ favor and Lynn called their final timeout. The service by sophomore Danielle Bletso and the rotation that Lynn found themselves in was just too much as Bletso ran the table, posting an ace and getting three kills from McKenna to put the wraps on the third-set win.
Leading the match 2-1, SLU closed things out quickly in the fourth set as they gained a 6-3 advantage and had pushed it to as much as 12-6 before Lynn called for a timeout. In a repeat of the first set, the Lions saw their final five servers toe the line multiple times as Saint Leo closed out the match victory.
In addition to the tremendous night by Nogueras, McKenna took home the attack percentage award, hitting .522 and notching a team-leading 14 kills. Rocha posted a double-double with 13 kills and 20 digs.
As a team, Saint Leo hit .286 and dug 76 balls while holding the visitors from Boca Raton to just a .113 percentage and 67 digs.
Saint Leo will have to quickly refocus as they host another top team in the Sunshine State Conference in less than 24 hours. Barry University comes calling on Saturday afternoon in a match that is scheduled to get underway at 4:00 p.m. EDT.