Edinburg, TX - A scrappy floor defensive effort from the SFA Ladyjacks propelled the club into the 2022 WAC Tournament Finals with a four set semifinal win over Grand Canyon on Friday night. SFA saw four players post double-figures in digs with senior Ariana Pagan leading the way with 22 scoops. The second four set win of the season over the 'Lopes runs the 'Jacks overall season mark to 25-4. In addition to the fierce back row play, SFA out-blocked Grand Canyon 10-7 and also won the battle in totals kills tallying 65 to the 'Lopes 53.
The 'Jacks played from behind in the majority of the first set as GCU's Ashley Lifgren got hot early and caused problems for SFA from the left side. Behind four early kills from Lifgren and two from fellow outsider hitter Tatum Parrott, GCU built an early 10-7 lead. SFA would play from two or three behind for several more rallies until an ace by the 'Jacks Jayden Flynn and a kill by teammate freshman Izabella Ortiz would knot the score at 15-15. But then Flynn errored on a serve and Ortiz errored on attack to give the 'Lopes the lead right back. SFA answered and tied the score at 18 and then at that point a side-out game ensued seeing the set scores tied at each of 19, 20 and 21. Parrott then errored for GCU and SFA senior middle blocker Kelsey Harrington knocked down a key kill to get the score in favor of the 'Jacks at 23-21. Grand Canyon answered once more getting a termination from right side hitter Melanie Brecka before tying the score on a Parrott ace. Ielan Bradley and Camryn Hill would get the final two kills of the set however, as SFA survived the first set with a minimum two point advantage winning 25-23.
The second set again saw Grand Canyon build and maintain a small lead early on. Midway through the set a GCU kill by middle blocker Hannah Eskes gave the 'Lopes a four point lead at 13-9. The 'Jacks would cut it to two several times during the middle of the set but then a Pagan service error was followed by an attack that couldn't find the rectangle and that gave GCU their four point advantage back at 18-14. Camryn Hill got a kill that allowed Haley Hoang to go on one of her many service runs in the match including an ace that got the Ladyjacks the lead back with the score 19-18. The teams then traded mini-runs ending with GCU rattling off three straight to regain the lead by a score of 21-19. After a Brecka error was followed up by a kill, the 'Jacks then ran off four straight points of their own to earn the first set point in the second frame getting up 24-22. GCU forced extras with a Lifgren kill being followed up by an Ortiz error. Then, Ortiz redeemed herself getting SFA their second set point of Set 2 by thundering down a kill that made the score 25-24. Tatum Parrott then kicked in two straight winners to give GCU a set point that was denied by a Pagan kill that tied the score once again at 26-26. The final two points of the long second set would go to the 'Lopes as Parrott again rattled a kill down and then an Ielan Bradley shot was too long allowing GCU to even the set score at 1-1.
Set 3 began with Grand Canyon getting off to a 4-2 lead before SFA went on a 9-4 run that contained five straight points off the serving of Hoang once again. During the run, SFA got five right side kills - three coming from Bradley and two from senior Payton Cerny. The set see-sawed back and forth and included 11 tied scores overall to go along with five lead changes. Hill held serve while Cerny added two more kills to get the 'Jacks first to 20 with the score 20-17. After GCU got kills from Brecka and Parrott the third set ended with SFA finishing on a 5-1 run that saw the set come to a close with a Maddy Bourque ace to give SFA a 2-1 set advantage.
Much like she did in the first set, Ashley Lifgren started off the fourth set hot for GCU. Lifgren finished with a season high 20 kills on 58 swings while hitting .241. Her three early kills gave GCU the 5-3 advantage, but then Camryn Hill served SFA on a 5-0 run to take the lead 8-5. The rest of the way, SFA would never again trail, but a tandem block by the 'Lopes Annabelle Kubinki and Hope Hanak-Harper, who had been inserted for the error prone Brecka got GCU within one with score 11-10 in favor of the 'Jacks. Another run by SFA followed, with Hoang leading the service line charge once again and the Ladyjacks lead build to 16-11. Down the stretch, Payton Cerny was in on two blocks on Parrott to get SFA first to 20 and then the 'Jacks polished off the set and the match on a 4-0 run started by a Bradley kill and ended with a Hoang ace - her fifth of the contest.
Overall in the four set (25-23, 26-28, 25-20, 25-18) win, Pagan posted a double-double with 11 kills to go along with the aforementioned 22 digs. Setter Maddy Bourque also posted a double-double dishing out 27 assists while scooping 10 balls. Freshman Camryn Hill posted a career and season high 20 digs and the 'Jacks season scoring leader Bradley hit .310 while throwing down 18 kills. Cerny was errorless posting 11 kills in her 29 swings (.379). Izabella Ortiz went over 100 blocks for the year with her five rejections paired up with 12 kills while hitting .333. Overall, SFA hit .240 and held the 'Lopes to .192.
SFA will face off with #4 seeded Utah Valley who swept host and #1 seed UTRGV in the other semifinal match. First serve on Saturday between the 'Jacks and Wolverines is slated for 7:00 PM with a radio broadcast available at this blog starting at the top of the hour. The winner of the SFA/Utah Valley match will earn the WAC automatic bid into the 2022 NCAA Volleyball Championship Tournament.