The No. 2 Golden Eagles started out the C-USA conference volleyball tournament with a win over the No. 7 North Texas Mean Green in Houston.
The Golden Eagles swept the Mean Green earlier in the season but found themselves in a tough match. The Mean Green jumped out to an early lead of 16 – 10 in the first set, forcing the Golden Eagles to play from behind. Eventually, the Golden Eagles dropped the first set and needed to battle in hopes of staying alive for the semifinals.
In the second set, early on the Golden Eagles managed to find a small lead at 12 – 8. However, the Mean Green were far from finished as they tied the set at 20 each. The Golden Eagles then went on a 5 – 0 run to even the match at one set each. Notably, the Golden Eagles would have 20 kills in this set alone.
The Golden Eagles’ momentum kept them going into the third set, as they went on an 8 – 2 run putting them up 18 – 9. In that stretch, Kylie Grandy would nail three straight service aces and also totaled ten kills at the end of the night. Despite being down early and compiling 14 errors, North Texas battled back after being down only 22-20 after a 6-0 run.Once again the Golden Eagles clamped down and held off North Texas to take the third set at 25-22.
In the deciding match set, the Golden Eagles jumped to another early lead of 7 – 4. Yet, the Mean Green refused to quit and took the lead at 11 – 9, resulting in five ties and four lead changes in the set. The Golden Eagles found themselves down 16 – 19, but seniors Stephany Purdue and Chanel Joyce helped rally the team with seven kills between them. The Golden Eagles closed out the match with a 11 – 1 run that ended the match at 25 – 21.
“That was a real good, gritty win,” Head Coach Amanda Berkley said. “UNT is just a very tough team to beat.”
The match sent the Golden Eagles to face Rice in the semifinal match the next day.
On Saturday, the Golden Eagles took on the host team, No. 6 seed Rice. Rice looked to avenge their five set loss that the Golden Eagles picked up on their dramatic senior day. The Golden Eagles found themselves in an 0 – 2 hole again, similar to the last match between the two teams.
In the first set, the Owls jumped out to a 12 – 5 run that was unrecoverable for the Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles closed the gap to within three points, 19 – 16, but the Owls went on a 6-1 run that ended the first set at 25-19.
The second set was no better for the Golden Eagles as they were down by as much eight points at 19 – 11. In the first two sets the Owls had a team total of 30 kills with 15 each in the first two sets. Home-field advantage helped the Owls avenge the previous regular season loss as the defense struggled to stop the Owls.
In the third set, much like the last time the two teams played, the Golden Eagles showed a refusal to end a historic season on such bad terms. The Golden Eagles managed to build a 10 – 6 lead over Rice. However, Rice battled back, causing 16 ties and five lead changes. Much like the last match between these two teams they were forced to go into extra points as both teams were tied at 25 – 25. The Golden Eagles managed to battle back and take the decisive set at 28-26.
“This match was just really neat that our team, despite being down 0 – 2 again, still found a way to make it real competitive,” Berkley said.
The fourth set was no easier for the Golden Eagles as they had an uphill battle with an early Rice lead at 12-10. The Golden Eagles picked up 21 kills in this set, with eight coming from Purdue. The team found a rhythm at 18 – 18 and managed to hold off Rice for a 25 – 23 win in the fourth set.
For the second time in a row, both teams faced another fifth set. Even though the Golden Eagles managed to stay alive, it was short-lived as home-court advantage seemed to help Rice jump to a 10-5 lead which was unrecoverable as Rice took the set at 15-5.
Despite the fact that Rice avenged its toughest loss in the regular season, the Golden Eagles managed to put together one of the best seasons in school history.
The senior class is now the winningest class in school history with 84 wins. Freshman Catherine Repsher was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year, and the team had five players make All-Conference. This is also the third time in four seasons that Coach Berkley has made it to the semifinals in the C-USA tournament.
Even though the Golden Eagles will lose seniors Purdue, Chanel Joyce and Makareta Rademakers, the team has massive talent which can help them have an even better season next year.
“I’m really proud of this team and its season,” Berkley said. “It was unbelievable for the Southern Miss volleyball program. I’m so proud of Chanel, Maka and Stephany for their contributions. They left this place better than when they arrived.”