When Stephen F. Austin’s final service error sailed over the back row player’s heads to give the Wildcats a 15-12 win in game five, it wasn’t just the first post-season win for volleyball at the Div. 1 level. It also marked the first time an eight seed had ever upset the top-seed in the Southland Conference Tournament.
After inching its way in the tournament, losing its final two games and needing a tiebreaker to set up Friday’s game, ACU responded with a five-set upset victory over the regular-season conference champion Lumberjacks.
The 26-win Lumberjacks started off like expected, closing game one on a 9-1 run and coming away with a 25-16 win. However, ACU returned the favor in the second set, taking five of the final six points to secure a 25-21 victory.
Junior outside hitter Jacey Smith hit just .043, but still found a way to get to double digit kills with 12. Freshman Lorin McNeil was the only Wildcat with more, finishing with 14 kills.
Smith said the team was expectant and ready heading into the match.
“We were so excited and confident going in, playing SFA first, we knew that it’d be anyone’s game,” Smith said. “The amount of heart and love poured out by every single person on the team was incredible.”
The Wildcats carried that momentum into the third set, outscoring the Lumberjacks 4-1 and getting a game-clinching kill from Smith to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Determined not to be the first top-seed to get the boot from an eighth seed, SFA rebounded and forced a game five with a 25-22 win. But the Lumberjacks could not prevent the Wildcats from prevailing and punching a ticket to the semifinals. ACU’s key to success in the fifth set was another strong hitting performance, posting a .208 hitting percentage compared to SFA’s .125.
The win was the Wildcats 12th of the season and matches last year’s total, when the team won 11 conference games, but just one non-conference match-up. This season ACU earned four non-conference victories despite its strength of schedule and added seven conference wins.
Smith said the team is just happy to continue competing at this level of play.
“We’re just so thrilled to still be playing and savoring these opportunities,” Smith said. “The Lord is so so good to us and we’ll be victorious in Him no matter what happens.”
ACU will take on Houston Baptist Saturday at noon in the first of two semifinal match-ups. The Huskies are the fourth seed in the tournament and swept Northwestern State in round one. The Wildcats have just one victory in six tries against HBU, including a four-set loss in Houston earlier this season. The winner will take on the winner of Central Arkansas and tournament host, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.