Nuggets finish the job, sweep SUNO to win GCAC tourney
November 12, 2011
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Moira Kirk knew it during
warmups Saturday. Taylor Reuther knew it during the first set. Coach Christabell
Hamilton knew it late in the third set.
All three were confident, though at different points,
that the Xavier University of Louisiana's women's volleyball team was going to
win the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament. The Gold Nuggets concluded a
4-0 run through the three-day, double-elimination event with a 25-12, 25-17,
25-20 victory Saturday against city rival SUNO.
The victory was the school-record-tying eighth in a
row for the Gold Nuggets (23-6), who earned the GCAC's automatic bid to the
NAIA National Championship, which will begin next Saturday at 12 campus sites.
Teams and pairings will be announced early next week. It's the first
conference tournament championship and bid to nationals for the Gold Nuggets'
4-year-old program which began in 2003, then took a hiatus in 2005 because of
Hurricane Katrina before resurfacing a year ago.
Reuther, who shared tournament MVP with Talladega's
Shalitha Swain, had 10 kills and 18 digs in the title match. Kirk, Xavier's
other all-tournament selection, hit .609 — 16 kills in 23 attacks with
no errors — and had seven blocks. Both Reuther and Kirk are among seven
Xavier freshmen this season, four of whom started in the title match.
Chinedu Echebelem, another freshman, and Iva Bobkova
had five kills apiece, and Celeste Poe had 13 digs for Xavier.
Third-seeded SUNO (20-11) eliminated defending champion
and second-seeded Dillard 22-25, 25-22, 25-17, 25-22 and had just 30 minutes to
replenish calories and prepare for a championship round in which the Lady Knights
would need two more victories to prevent a Xavier championship. But the Gold
Nuggets — who sent Dillard into the losers bracket Friday with a one-for-the ages
rally from two sets down — started strongly with 5-0 and 15-5 first-set leads.
SUNO's only leads in the final were at 2-1 and 4-3 in the third set, and the
Lady Knights finished second for the second consecutive year.
"We had energy and an excitement to win," said Kirk,
announced Wednesday as GCAC Freshman of the Year. "We had fought too hard against
Dillard last night. We didn't want to give up after fighting for it so much.
"I just felt in the warmup we were going to win.
We're always high energy when we warm up, but this time it just felt different."
Reuther couldn't make any predictions until after the
Nuggets' blazing start in which they produced seven kills, two aces and a block
in the first 18 rallies.
"We crushed SUNO's momentum from the beginning," said
Reuther, who had 11 second-set digs en route to her team-leading 12th kill-dig
double-double. "We stuck together after that and played Xavier volleyball. I
had confidence we were going to finish strongly."
Hamilton didn't feel confident until the final 10
rallies, and before that she kept reminding her team "that if we didn't stay
focused we could easily end up the way Dillard did last night — winning
the first two sets and not being able to finish. We had to finish strongly."
Kirk led the way in that department. Her final six
swings in the third all went for kills. Xavier hit .320 with 39 kills and seven
errors in 100 attacks.
Xavier won all 14 of its matches this season against
the GCAC — the Nuggets were 10-0 in the regular season and won that
championship too — in a rags-to-riches climb from 11-26 in 2010.
Hamilton, hired in mid-June, is in her first season as a collegiate head coach.
She'll turn 30 Christmas Day.
"This has been a great experience," Kirk said. "Learning
and becoming a better volleyball player . . . and bonding as a team."