Written and Media by Brian Ehresman. [divide]
For only the second time in school history, the Greenville Lady Panthers (24-7) won the SLIAC Volleyball tournament championship. After two victories at home on Saturday, the women advanced the NCAA Division III National Tournament. GC won the championship in thrilling fashion, overcoming a two-set deficit against Westminster and avenged their only conference loss of the season by rallying to win the next three sets. Earlier in the day, the Panthers swept Fontbonne in the semifinals to reach the championship round.
In the championship, the first two sets went down to the wire with Westminster winning the first 25-23 and the second 26-24. In both sets, GC held leads of 19-14 but were unable to hold on.
“After being down 2-0, the six of us on the court came together and reminded each other that we must stick together through it all, and we have three more sets to go out and win,” said sophomore star outside hitter Allyson Mitchell, who provided 16 kills and 19 digs.
GC did just that in the next three sets. Greenville controlled most of the third set after jumping out to an 11-5 lead, forcing Westminster to take a timeout. The Lady Panthers went on to win the set 25-18 to force a fourth. Greenville started quickly, taking the first three points of the set. Westminster managed to tie the game at 14 and was only down one point at 16-17 before GC widened the gap. Acrobatic senior libero Jamie Schollenbruch went on a big serving run to put the Panthers up 22-16, before settling for a 25-21 fourth set victory. This set the stage for the dramatic fifth and final winner-take-all set.
In a shortened fifth set (goes to 15 instead of 25), each point is extremely crucial, as the fate of the match seemingly sways different direction with each kill or block. The teams traded the first six points for a 3-3 tie and were tied again at 5 until SLIAC Player of the Year Hannah Marshall smacked three straight kills to give Westminster an 8-5 lead. The Lady Blue Jays built their lead to 12-7 and were inching closer to a championship of their own. Greenville earned the next point to cut the lead to four, and junior Emily Thebeau came into the match to serve. She toed the line and began a serving run that changed the destiny and outcome of the 2015 GC Volleyball season. Thebeau served six straight points, including two aces, to put the Panthers on top 14-12 and bring up match point.
“I just told myself to stay calm and get my serves in,” Thebeau said. “I was able to go on such a long run because I was not finished playing yet. I wanted to push our team our team to the absolute max and just keep the ball in play and let our offense and defense do the work.”
Westminster scored the next point to make it a 14-13 game, before freshman middle hitter Riley Hannula slammed down match point to give the Panthers the title.
“This win is huge for our program,” Mitchell exclaimed. “This team is something special and I am beyond blessed to have accomplished everything we have this season with them.”
Senior outside hitter Hannah Baker mastered the art of tipping on her way to leading GC with 20 kills in the championship match. Junior setter Kirsten Laune totaled 56 assists, and junior opposite hitter Savannah Sells had 18 kills and 5 blocks. Schollenbruch collected 39 digs to lead the Panther defense.
After the match, the SLIAC all-conference and specialty award winners were named. Greenville was well represented with Sells and Laune on the all-conference third team, Hannula on the second team, and Schollenbruch and Mitchell named to the first team. Schollenbruch earned the Defensive Player of the Year award for the second straight year, and Hannula earned Newcomer of the Year honors. Head coach Tom Ackerman won his fifth SLIAC Coach of the Year award to add on to the Panther trophy case. Schollenbruch was also named tournament MVP while Mitchell and Thebeau joined her on the all-tournament team.
The Lady Panthers will find out their opponent in the NCAA tournament on Monday and will begin play on Friday.