Tigers defeat Southwestern in SCAC Volleyball Championship

Trinity secures a bid for the National Championship after taking the Conference title

The energy in Calgaard Gymnasium was palpable after a tip from senior middle blocker Emily Ellis dropped among a sea of Pirates from Southwestern University. Leading 22-20, and already ahead in the match two sets to one, it seemed to dawn on those in attendance what was at stake: a SCAC Volleyball Championship.

This past weekend from Nov. 5-7, Trinity was the host site of the 2021 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) volleyball postseason tournament. Six teams gathered in San Antonio to compete for hardware and an automatic berth for the 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament.

Having finished regular season play with a record of 29-2, including a perfect 16-0 mark in conference play, the Tigers entered the weekend as the number one seed and received a first round bye. In Saturday’s semifinal action, they would take on the Texas Lutheran University (TLU) Bulldogs who advanced after defeating Austin College.

The Tigers were sluggish out of the gate, trailing for much of the first set, including a 19-21 scoreline late. Two quick points from Trinity knotted things at 21 and prompted a timeout from TLU, but the attempt to impede the Tigers’ momentum was unsuccessful. They scored the next four points out of the timeout and claimed the first set 25-21.

Senior right side hitter Sarah Williammee was instrumental in the set, notching six of her 10 kills of the day.

“It’s a collaboration with the setter, and I think that Marisa [Amarino] was giving me a really good situation. They weren’t double blocking to begin the game with, so she was kind of funneling the ball to me … We did know their tendencies. We knew that a lot more of the line was going to be open so just aiming for that part of the court,” Williammee said postgame.

Trinity carried their strong play into the second set, jumping out to a 11-6 lead and forcing TLU to call a timeout. The Bulldogs came out aggressively, scoring six straight themselves. The teams jostled back and forth to a 22-22 tie. Then a TLU service error gave the Tigers a 23-22 advantage and consecutive kills from Williammee and senior middle blocker Emma Funk closed out the set.

In what would prove to be the final set of the match, Trinity exploded early, scoring the first five points and eventually claiming a 10-1 advantage. They would only balloon their lead, eventually winning by a 14-point margin, 25-11, and advancing to the championship match on Sunday.

Senior Avery Tuggle, SCAC Co-Player of the Year, claimed her 13th double-double of the season, finishing with 11 kills and 10 digs. Junior setter Marisa Amarino finished with 28 of the Tigers’ 46 assists, leading both sides on the day.

In an interview after the match, Tuggle touched on how the team would approach the championship on Sunday.

“Coach says it all the time: We’re taking one game, one set, one point at a time. I think just staying super grounded in the present is huge for us right now,” Tuggle said.

That game would be against the number 16 Southwestern University Pirates, the third seed who advanced to the championship after a five set victory over Colorado College.

The Tigers carried the momentum from their semifinal victory with them into Sunday. A quick 9-4 start prompted a time out by Southwestern, but Trinity was firing on all cylinders. They pulled ahead 20-9 and eventually won the first set 25-11.

The Tigers on the floor were the loudest group in the building all weekend long. Their communication and enthusiasm was infectious, and it impacted the nearly 350 in attendance, specifically the packed Trinity student section. The longer the game progressed, the louder Calgaard grew.

In set number two, the Tigers continued to cruise. The set was never in question as the scoreline progressed from 6-1 to 18-9, and eventually 25-15, but in the third set the Pirates came back with a different level of focus and intensity. Their hitting percentage inflated to .237, up from -.056 and .029 in the first two sets. What’s more, they took away what had been working for the Tigers in preceding sets, dropping Trinity’s hitting percentage down to .139, as compared to .294 and .258 in sets one and two.

Despite another quick start from Trinity, leading 5-1 early, the Pirates battled back to go up 5-7, forcing a timeout from Head Coach Julie Jenkins, but the Tigers would play from behind the rest of the way, with 13-16 being the closest things got before Southwestern secured the set 20-25.

At two sets to one, and with the number 16 team in the country finally awake, the intensity of the match grew exponentially. The Tigers got everything they wanted in the first two sets, but when that was taken away, an adjustment needed to be made offensively.

The adjustment came via the middle, opening the outside hitters up and balancing their attack, reflected in their hitting percentage that soared to .317.

But even then, the Pirates wouldn’t go down without a fight. The fourth set was back and forth to 11-9, when Trinity scored four of the next five points to go up 15-10. Southwestern took a timeout and came out on the offensive, out scoring the Tigers 9-2 and grabbing the lead at 17-19.

The Tigers took a final timeout and in her post game interview, Amarino touched on what was discussed in the huddle.

“Play within ourselves. Do what we know, and side-out. It’s always good to hear our leadership from all of our coaching staff to let us know that they have faith in us, and that mirrors how we play honestly,” Amarino said.

That faith was mirrored when Trinity came out and scored seven of the next nine points. With the score at 24-21, Williammee, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, fittingly ended the match with a kill, securing a SCAC Championship as the rest of the Tigers rushed the floor.

Williammee led the way with 12 kills and was joined by Tuggle and Amarino as All-Tournament Team selections. They led the Tigers with 20 digs and 26 assists, respectively.

The victory gave the no. 2 Tigers their twentieth conference championship and secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament which will begin the weekend of Nov. 12.