SIOUX CITY, Iowa. – The 16th ranked Spring Hill College volleyball team closed out their remarkable 2011 season with a 3-1 (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-21) win over 25th-ranked Freed-Hardeman University in the final day of round-robin pool play at the NAIA Volleyball National Championship presented by CNOS Foundation on Thursday afternoon at The Forum.
The Badgers (40-3, 1-2 in pool play) fell down 8-1 early in the first set and struggled to a 15-5 deficit before rallying behind the senior leadership of Cassandra Marchand-Stewart of Grand Bay, Ala., and her three critical kills in a furious rally to make it just a one-point hole at 17-16.
An ace by senior right side hitter Yiting Cao of Shanghai, China, to tie the match at 19 was followed by a kill from sophomore middle hitter Sha Sha Buchanan of Mobile's McGill-Toolen Catholic High School to give SHC a 20-19 lead.
The FHU Lady Lions (28-11, 0-3), however, cut short the Badger rally and took the first set 25-22.
In the second set, SHC used a 4-0 run to turn a 7-8 disadvantage into an 11-8 lead and subsequently took as much as an 18-12 cushion before taking the 25-18 victory to tie the match at 1-1.
Set No. 3 was a point-for-point battle that found the score tied at 18-18 and 22-22 before the Badgers managed to wrest the win away from the Lady Lions at 25-23.
In the fourth and final set, Spring Hill and the Lions once again were deadlocked at 13 apiece before the Badgers finally clawed out some breathing room at 22-17. SHC secured the 25-21 victory with an appropriate flourish as sophomore libero Meredith Donald from McGill-Toolen accepted the service reception, sophomore setter Taryn Nash of Independence, Mo., set the assist and Cao slammed home her 1182nd and final career kill as a Badger for the happy 3-1 decision.
Individually, Cao claimed 21 kills and a .267 attack percentage in the match to go along with 15 digs, 21 receptions, three block assists and two service aces for 24.5 total points scored.
Marchand-Stewart racked up 12 kills in her final match in purple while fellow senior outside hitter Abby Roam of Lebanon, Mo., had 18 digs, seven kills, 21 receptions and one assisted block.
Nash handed out 45 assists with 15 digs, an ace and a solo block while Donald scooped up nine digs and 19 receptions.
The Badgers limited FHU to an attack percentage of .129 while building their own attack percentage to .197.
Sydney Rice led the Lady Lions with 16 kills, three aces, 15 digs, two block assists and 16 receptions.
Among the numerous team records established this season, the Badgers reached the 40-win plateau for the first time in school history and maintained the longest winning streak in the program's history with 38 consecutive victories along with a perfect mark in regular season play.
This season the Badgers suffered just three losses, coming at the hands of No. 3 Lee University, No. 4 Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and No. 9 Biola University.
Their victories over Xavier University (La.) and FHU also marked the first victories for the Badgers at the National Championship Tournament in just the team's second appearance at the event. SHC last appeared in 2003 and now holds an overall mark of 2-6 in National Tournament play.