SAINT LEO, Fla. – A collective sigh of relief could be heard from the Lions’ fans leaving the Bowman Center on Tuesday night as their 16th-ranked Saint Leo volleyball team rallied from a 2-1 match deficit to defeat the visiting No. 23 Florida Southern Moccasins 3-2 (25-20, 26-28, 23-25, 25-14, 15-9) in Sunshine State Conference play.
The five-setter started off in familiar fashion for SLU as they built a large lead in the first set, survived a late rally from the visitors, and pulled out the victory to set the tone in the match, but Florida Southern would not be intimidated.
Set two saw Saint Leo (16-2, 7-0 SSC) build as much as a 15-9 lead on the Mocs before Florida Southern would begin to rally. They would outscore the Lions 10-to-4 over the next points to knot the score at 19. More back-and-forth action saw the Mocs take a 23-21 lead before three kills by Emily Calderon-Reyes knotted the score at 24. Into extra points, the Lions would lose the set thanks to two attack errors, after putting themselves in position to steal the win when Bruna Rocha’s kill put the Lions up 26-25.
Set three saw the Lions and Mocs take the back-and-forth battle to an extreme as neither team was able to build a lead on their opponent. Tied almost all the way up to 21, the Mocs’ Anne Pietkiewicz would serve the visitors from Lakeland all the way to set-point as she sandwiched a service ace between two Florida Southern (10-8, 3-4 SSC) kills. Although a Calderon-Reyes kill and a Moccasin attack error gave the Lions hope, FSC finished off the set with a blast down the line from Natalie Arvizu as the Mocs now held a 2-1 match lead.
The fourth set saw a reenergized Saint Leo squad rocket out to a large lead, outscoring Florida Southern almost 2-to-1 in the game. The Lions, leading 13-9 at the time, saw senior libero Chelsea Armer serve the Green & Gold to 17-9 before the sideout, and then Rocha ran the table, taking the score from 19-14 to the set victory.
The showdown in the fifth set saw the visitors get on the board first with a service error that was credited to the Lions. A kill by Calderon-Reyes knotted the game, but a FSC kill again gave the Mocs the lead. After SLU was whistled for a ball handling error, and Florida Southern matched SLU with a service error of their own, Armer again toed the service line and worked her magic. Taking the ball with the score 3-2 in favor of FSC, the senior would not surrender the serve until she gave her Lions a 5-3 advantage. After that point, it was a matter of outmuscling the Moccasins as the teams would answer each other on the court. The exclamation point was delivered from Rocha, Danielle Bletso and Kaitlin McKenna as all three posted big kills in the match’s waning moments. Bletso, after receiving a nice assist from Leah Perry, blasted a beautiful cross-court winner to send the Lions’ fan into a frenzy and give Saint Leo their 16th win of 2009.
The Lions ended the evening hitting .247 as Rocha, the reigning AVCA National Player of the Week, had a match-high 21 kills. Calderon-Reyes was right behind with 18, and McKenna squeaked into double-digits with 10.
The most amazing stat of the night, aside from SLU picking up their third-straight win from the Mocs in a series that now stands at 60-3 in favor of FSC, was that Saint Leo posted 100 digs on the defensive side of the ball. Five Lions held double-figures in digs as Armer led the Lions with 26, Rocha had 22, Calderon-Reyes had 21, Michelle Nogueras had 19 and Corey Ryan managed 10.
After catching their breath from this thriller, the Lions will turn their attention to a weekend doubleheader as they host Nova Southeastern on Saturday afternoon and welcome Bentley University to the Bowman Center on Sunday. The NSU match will start at 4:00 p.m. while the Lions get things started at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.