After a momentous victory over the top ranked Colorado College in the semi-final game of the 2015 SCAC volleyball conference tournament, the fourth-seeded Tiger volleyball team fell 3-1 to the tournament host Southwestern University in the conference final on Saturday night.
Southwestern won the first set of the championship 17-25, only to see the Tigers claim the second set 25-23.
Despite the Tigersâ€™ 109 defensive digs, home court advantage proved to be enough to lead the Pirates to claim the third and fourth sets, 25-20 and 25-16 respectively, to clinch the conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Playoffs.
This was the Tigersâ€™ fifth straight appearance in the SCAC conference championship.
â€œHeading into the weekend tournament, Â I had a gut feeling that it would be a true test of our growth this season, and despite the result, I can say that we showed our true character; because of that I am truly proud,â€shared head volleyball coach, associate director of athletcs and senior woman administrator Julie Jenkins when reflecting on the conclusion of her 31st season at the helm of Tiger volleyball.
Trinity (24-12) previously defeated Southwestern in the championship match in the past two seasons, but this year it would be the 12th-ranked Pirates who claimed the title.
Failing to defeat the Pirates, this final match would conclude the Trinity Tigers 2015 fall season, as they didnâ€™t receive a bid to the NCAA playoffs.
â€œItâ€™s really saddening, even a bit depressing, that this season has come to a close, especially because this group of girls has been such a joy to coach and watch this season,â€ Jenkins said. â€œI have no doubt that we should be in NCAA playoffs, especially considering the strength of the SCAC conference this year.â€
Both Southwestern and Colorado College are ranked within the top 12 nationally in addition to their high rankings in the Western division of the NCAA bracket.
Trinity struggled against Southwesternâ€™s five-senior starting squad this season in particular, falling 0-3 to them on the season overall.
After a rather tumultuous start to the season, which included over half of the Tigers losses to Southwestern, Colorado and other powerhouse schools, Jenkins was more than pleased with the manner in which the girls approached the conference tournament.
â€œOur philosophy was that we could play nervous or determined,â€ Jenkins said. â€œIn that final match, we were 50-50, allowing our nerves to get the best of our passing in the middle, therefore forcing us to rely too heavily on our outside hitters.â€
This defeat reflected no lack of effort from the Tigers, with four players notching 20 or more digs.
Two-time SCAC player of the week and all-conference selection Erika Edrington led the Tigers with 24 digs and 44 assists.
With this final performance, Edrington amassed a season total of 1,214 assists in addition to 386 digs. She is the 12th player in school history to reach 1,200 assists in a single season, and is only 20 assists from reaching the top 10 for one year.
â€œOverall, we started the season with less confidence, but going into that final match there is no doubt that we were confident in ourselves as a team,â€ Edrington said. â€œ[We] never wanted to treat this season as a rebuilding yearâ€¦ [and we] had nothing but high expectations for this fall season.â€
These expectations led Edrington and the Tigers to post a final season record of 24 wins and 13 losses.
Another consistent offensive power was sophomore Madeline McKay who led the team with 22 kills, while first year Kirby Smith also added 12 to finish with a double-double.
McKay also claimed three blocks, trailing just one block behind her teammate Rebecca Hayes who had four blocks in the final.
â€œWe are so fortunate to have an all-around player and leader like Edrington returning next year,â€ Jenkins said.
Players like Edrington and sophomores McKay and Smith will prove to be the core of the Tigers offense next fall, as Jenkins plans to add seven new-committed incoming freshman to the program.
In regard to the future, Jenkins could not say enough about the legacy and impact of her three graduating seniors.
â€œ[They] may be the best all around team players, and the ultimate examples of dedication,â€ Jenkins said.
In what would be the final match of her esteemed career, senior Sarah Price contributed 22 digs versus Southwestern, while fellow senior Shannon Courtney and sophomore Kirby Smith added 20 a piece.
For Price, Courtney and Megan Reynolds, this final loss is particularly saddening, as it would be the final match of their impressive collegiate campaigns.
â€œOur three seniors were a huge part of our positive team atmosphere. They are all so easy to play alongside on a daily basis because they are such supportive and dedicated teammates,â€ Edrington said.
â€œThese three were always more than willing to play whatever role was asked of them. Overall they all bring so much happiness to the team, and they were a joy to coach,â€ Jenkins said.
That happiness was exhibited in the Tigers thrilling semi-final match as they knocked off the top seeded and nationally ranked Colorado College 3-2.
This marked the first time the Tigers have defeated Colorado this season, avenging a fifth set loss from earlier in the season.
â€œWatching that final fifth set, I said to myself, this is Trinity volleyball,â€ said Jenkins. â€œWe really showed our true character and determination throughout that battle with Colorado, playing with more fight in that fifth set than I have seen all season.â€
The back-and-forth battle concluded with Trinity defeating the seventh nationally-ranked Colorado in the fifth set.
Even though Colorado battled back to win the third and fourth sets 25-23 and 30-28, the Tigers were back in the fifth set in part to McKay and Smithâ€™s 18 kills apiece.
Smith added 12 digs to finish Colorado in the 5th set, claiming her final double-double of her sophomore campaign, while McKay hit .312 in the match.
Setter, Edrington tabulated 53 assists in the semifinal and 20 digs to afford the Tigers a spot in the finals.
Courtney recorded 25 digs to lead Trinityâ€™s defensive effort while Hayes blocked nine shots.
Price was instrumental in leading the defense, contributing 16 digs.
The Tigers earned their place in the semi-final versus Colorado by knocking off fifth-seeded Austin College 3-1.
Trinity won first set 25-17, only to surrender the second to the Kangaroos 25-19. Confident in their defensive capabilities and in their tops hitters, Trinity surged ahead in the third and fourth sets 25-21, 25-13 to close out the match.
Notable on the offensive was sophomore Kristina Hughes, who hit .500 in the quarterfinal match in addition to finishing nine kills against the â€˜Roos.
Smith finished with a double-double of 22 kills and 11 digs, while hitting .358. McKay added 14 kill shots of her own, largely in part to Edringtonâ€™s 54 assists.
As key part of the Tigers defensive stalwart was Courtneyâ€™s 22 digs, Priceâ€™s 17 digs and Sarah Mullensâ€™ 15. Hayes contributed five blocks on the â€˜Roos.
As a result of the Tigersâ€™ runner-up performance in the SCAC conference tournament, Edrington was named to the first all-tournament team, and Smith was named to the second team.
Although the Tigers filed to claim their fourth straight conference title, this marked the third year Edrington was tabbed for the elite squad as she earned second team accolades for the last two seasons. Â
Smith leads the Tigers with 371 kills, nearing the top 25 ranks for a single season. She is second on the team with 409 digs and 42 aces. Â Smith has scored 15 or more kills in a match five times this season, which also brings her to the top among all Trinity volleyball players.
Despite the abrupt conclusion of the Tigers 2015 season, Jenkins and Edrington both noted the importance of growth for the future of Tiger volleyball.
â€œNext yearâ€™s success starts now,â€ Jenkins said. â€œAnd I have nothing but confidence that we can continue to be one of the top contenders in our conference next fall.â€