Middle blocker Kelly Foley’s 18 kills were crucial in the St. Thomas volleyball team’s victory over St. Benedict Saturday at Schoenecker Arena.
The Tommies took the Blazers to five sets to clinch the conference title and defend their 12-0 conference record.
The win marked the team’s first MIAC playoff title since 2008, and now the Tommies have the MIAC automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. St. Thomas will know its opponent and location during the national selection show 11 a.m. Monday.
Coach Thanh Pham said the team came into tonight’s match expecting to take on a tough competitor.
“We knew it would be tough,” Pham said. “St. Ben’s is a really good team.”
It was a hard-fought battle in set No. 1. Outside hitter Nicole Potts started the game and pounded a ball down the line to give the Tommies an early 4-3 lead in the set. Potts ended the night with eight kills.
Potts and middle blocker Mackenzie Piechowski pressed double blocks, helping the team work the net against St. Ben’s. The Tommies had 16 blocks in the first match alone but lost the set 25-23.
Middle blocker Paige Brimeyer froze the Blazers’ defense in match No. 2 off of a tip to the middle of the court, putting her team up 6-2. Brimeyer hit .255 for the match. Atkinson stepped up for the Tommies with her kill right before the Blazers took their first timeout of the set.
Foley displayed her ruthless blocking when she solo-blocked the Blazers’ offense, keeping her team ahead 16-10. Foley had three solo blocks throughout the match. The set ended when Brimeyer smashed a kill down on the Blazers’ side of the net. St. Thomas won set No. 2 25-22.
Potts said tonight’s match was a big win for the team, especially with many close scores.
“Everyone was just so excited,” Potts said. “This is what we live for.”
After splitting the first two sets, the Tommies and Blazers entered set No. 3 with new life. The Tommies took the 3-2 lead early when Foley cranked the ball cross-court.
Greenfield jumped to hit into the Blazers’ block, tying the game at 11. The Blazers took the lead and stormed ahead, leaving the Tommies behind by three points. Foley helped her team get back into rhythm with her solo block, keeping the Tommies behind 22-18. The Blazers pulled away from the Tommies and closed the set 25-23, their second win of the match.
With the match on the line, the Tommies came out in set No. 4. Brimeyer hit into the Blazers’ block and pushed the ball down the line for a 5-3 Tommie edge. Serving as a motivating factor, Foley hit through the block, giving her team a 10-8 lead over the Blazers.
Atkinson kept her team afloat when she pushed the ball to the deep corner, extending the Tommies’ 16-13 lead. Brimeyer crushed the ball after a hustle play by defensive specialist Kaiti Wachter’s dig and setter Katie Maher’s set. Piechowski pressed a solo block to finish set No. 4 25-19.
Foley said she wasn’t going to let the Blazers win the match.
“For me, it was just like, ‘this isn’t going to happen, they’re not going to win,’” Foley said. “I knew my team would be right there with me in not letting it happen.”
With the MIAC championship at stake, Potts pushed her team forward 5-3 in set No. 5 when she crushed an overpassed ball by the Blazers’ serve-receive. Outside hitter Ashley Dahly made her match debut and had a game-altering double block with Foley, putting the Tommies ahead by three points.
The Tommies continued to push forward when Foley opened fire on an open net, crushing the ball down the court for the 12-5 lead. Piechowski unleashed a kill of her own, putting the Tommies two points away from the title. After pushing the final two points, the Tommies clinched the title 15-8 in the final set.
Pham said from here on, the most important component is to keep the team’s work ethic strong.
“The challenge is just working hard everyday,” Pham said. “I think it’s no change from there.”
Sean Crotty can be reached at email@example.com.