LUBBOCK, Texas – Going out in style.
The No. 3 seed UAFS volleyball team rallied from a first-set loss to beat No. 4 seed St. Edward’s in four sets on Saturday afternoon and win the Heartland Conference Tournament championship at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas.
UAFS won the match 20-25, 25-22, 25-14, 25-17 to seal its status as the most-dominant volleyball program in the history of the Heartland Conference.
It was the final conference tournament in the 20-year history of the conference. The conference will disband in July with all but two of the current conference teams – Newman and Rogers State – joining the Lone Star Conference. Newman and Rogers State will join the MIAA Conference.
The Lady Lions captured their first conference tournament title since 2016, when UAFS beat Lubbock Christian in three sets at the Stubblefield Center, and their conference-record sixth championship in eight title match appearances.
Ironically, UAFS won its first conference tournament title in 2011 – the first season UAFS was eligible to compete for regular-season and conference tournament championships on the NCAA Division II level – by beating then regular-season champion and No. 1 seed St. Edward’s in four sets on its home court at the Recreation and Convocation Center in Austin, Texas.
The Lady Lions are just the fourth No. 3 seed to ever win the conference tournament, joining St. Edward’s (2004), Dallas Baptist (2009) and St. Mary’s (2010). No team lower than a No. 3 seed ever won the conference tournament.
UAFS received the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II National Tournament, and the Lady Lions are likely the only conference team to earn an invitation.
Only eight teams advance to the national tournament – three conference champions and five at-large teams. Only regular-season champion Lubbock Christian was ranked in the last regular-season NCAA Division II South Central Region Poll, which is used to help determine at-large bids, and the Lady Chaps were ranked No. 10 in the 10-team poll.
The Lady Lions will learn who their first round opponent will be and where they will play during the live stream of the NCAA Division II selection show on NCAA.com at 9 p.m. on Sunday.
UAFS beat No. 2 seed St. Mary’s in three sets in Friday’s tournament opener to reach the title match, while St. Edward’s beat regular-season champion and No. 1 seed Lubbock Christian in five sets. The Hilltoppers were one of only two teams to beat the Lady Chaps in regular-season conference play with the other being the Lady Lions.
It was the third match of the season between UAFS and St. Edward’s. The two teams split the regular-season series with each team winning in five sets on their opponent’s home court. It was the fourth time for the two teams to meet in the championship match, and UAFS has won all four meetings.
UAFS hit at an impressive 0.251 clip with 63 kills on 187 attempts with 16 errors. Junior outside hitter Anna Demmer, a First Team All-Conference selection, had a team-high 23 kills. Sophomore right-side hitter Rachel Williams had a career-high 20 kills, compiling a sizzling 0.327 hitting percentage.
Freshman setter Taylor Stoops, who was an Honorable Mention All-Conference selection, collected 45 assists, while freshman defensive specialist Lexie Castillow served four of the Lady Lions’ six aces.
St. Edward’s had eight total blocks. Senior middle hitter Mikayla Parker collected two solo blocks and five block assists, while senior outside hitter Kate Hendrix had four block assists. The Hilltoppers had 96 digs, and senior setter Julia Hartley was one of three Hilltoppers with double-digit digs, finishing with a team-high 26.
The Lady Lions held the Hilltoppers to just a 0.169 hitting percentage with 53 kills on 189 attempts with 21 errors. Redshirt junior outside hitter Alexa McAndrew and Hendrix had 18 and 12 kills, respectively, to lead the Hilltoppers.
Hartley topped of her double-double with 23 assists, while junior setter/outside hitter Olivia Rome had 23 assists. That duo and McAndrew each served one of the Hilltoppers’ three aces.
UAFS collected seven total team blocks. Senior middle hitter Debra Rogers, who was the Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-Conference selection, had four block assists, junior middle hitter Brylee Burroughs had two solo blocks and one block assist and Demmer had three block assists.
The Lady Lions collected 95 digs. Demmer posted her team-leading 17th double-double with a team-high 22 digs. Freshman libero Pilar Onstad, who was an Honorable Mention All-Conference selection, had 17, and Stoops posted her 12th double-double with 15 digs. Sophomore setter Laryssa Correa had 14 digs, and Castillow had 11 digs.
Demmer was named MVP of the tournament, while Williams and Stoops were each named to the All-Tournament Team. They were joined by McAndrew and Hendrix of St. Edward’s, Kelsie French of Lubbock Christian and Alissa Tolbert of St. Mary’s.