CONWAY, Ark. – The Sam Houston State volleyball team took the first set, but the top-seeded Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks came back to take each of the next three sets and the title in the finals of the Southland Conference Tournament, winning 3-1 (20-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17) on Sunday afternoon at the Farris Center.
The Kats (18-13) were making their second appearance in the tournament finals since 1996, with each coming since 2016. Meanwhile, the Ladyjacks (31-1) will return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in as many years. As runner-up in the conference, the Kats earn an automatic berth in the NIVC.
The Kats were on fire early, hitting .366 in winning the opening set, but were held to just .148 hitting over the course of the final three sets.
Breanne Chausse led the Bearkats and capped an all-tournament weekend with 16 kills on 30 swings, hitting .467 for the match. She finished the weekend hitting .415 and averaged 4.30 kills per set. She was joined on the all-tournament team by senior libero Addison Miller who had 17 digs in the match and school record to 633 digs this season.
Ashley Lewis added 13 kills and Samantha Rodgers had 10, while Catherine Krieger finished with eight. Ashleigh Traylor the regular season with 10 digs, while Morgan Janda totaled 27 assists and Madilyn Miles had 20.
Two early kills from Chausse and a flurry from both Samantha Rodgers and Elise Smith had the Kats out in front, 14-11, midway through the opening frame. That lead stretched out to 20-15 on two more scores from Chausse, but SFA responded with three straight points of its own to cut it back to 20-18.
Lewis delivered a must-have kill for the Kats two points later and finished with six kills in the set, including each of the last three to give the Kats a 25-20 win in Set 1. They hit .366 in the set with 19 kills and just four misfires on their 41 swings.
SHSU swung well in Set 2, but cooled off slightly as the Ladyjacks evened it up at a set apiece. Each team landed 13 kills in the set, but it was SFA who owned a slight 3-1 edge at the net with the Kats totaling five attack errors.
The Kats had it evened up at 4-4 in the early going of the second set before SFA reeled off six straight points to open up a 10-6 advantage. The Ladyjacks would continue to pour it on in the set, leading by as much as eight points at 22-14 before three straight Bearkat kills cut the late Ladyjack lead to five points at 22-17. SFA followed that rally up with three straight points of its own, getting a service ace from Ariana Pagan to close it out.
Chausse added six kills to her total in the third set, but the Kats hit just .130 as the Ladyjacks took a 2-1 lead. SFA hit .222 for the set, led by four kills each from Corin Evans and Xariah Williams.
In a nip-and-tuck battle that featured five lead changes, it was the Kats who took a 16-14 lead at the midway point after four straight points. A block by Lewis and Smith sparked the run before the squad forced consecutive errors from the Ladyjacks and a service ace from Lewis added to the lead. But a 5-1 SFA run followed, forcing a Bearkat timeout at 19-17. Four more points followed for SFA on kills by Pagan and Danae Daron before a tandem block finished off the set.
The Kats were right there midway through the fourth set before a 10-3 Ladyjack run closed it out. SHSU had won the race to 10, erasing a 9-6 deficit with four consecutive points on kills from Krieger, Madilyn Miles and Rodgers to go up 10-9. Scores by Krieger and Hunnicutt upped the lead to 13-11 before a quick 3-0 burst from the Ladyjacks put the lead back on their side. That run continued with six of the next eight points going SFA’s way, putting the Ladyjacks in control at 20-15.