Kills by senior middle blocker Heather Thorson and freshman outside hitter Melanie Jereb closed out the Jays’ second come from behind five-set victory this past weekend.
The No. 21 Jays (26-3, 17-1 in MVC) defeated the Missouri State University Bears (25-20, 17-25, 25-27, 25-18, 15-13) Saturday night.
After trailing 4-3, the Jays went on a 5-0 run to take the lead in the opening set, and never looked back.
The Jays led 12-9 in set number two before the Bears called timeout. Missouri State followed the break with 12-4 run on their way to the victory in the second set.
The Bears took the critical third set, but the Jays didn’t step down.
After trailing early in the fourth set, the Jays went on a 5-0 run to take the lead for the remainder of the set.
The Jays trailed 9-6 in the final set before winning in dramatic fashion, 15-13.
Sophomore outside hitter Leah McNary recorded a career-best 23 kills on Saturday.
The five-set victory in Springfield on Saturday came one night after the Jays escaped against the Wichita State University Shockers in similar style (22-25, 15-25, 25-16, 25-20, 16-14) to claim the out-right MVC title.
The fifth set of Friday’s match kept all 2,725 fans at Charles Koch Arena on the edge of their seats.
Trailing 10-6, head coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth called timeout to rally her troops. After the timeout, the Jays went on a 4-1 run to pull within a single point. Freshman defensive specialist Ashley Jansen had an opportunity to bring the Jays to the tie, but her service error gave the ball back to the Shockers. A kill by Wichita’s Elizabeth Field put them up three and two points away from the five-set victory.
The next point went to the Jays on a Jereb kill, assisted by senior setter Megan Bober. Bober scored the next two points on kills to tie the game at 13.
Bober finished the night with a triple-double including 42 assists, 14 kills and 11 digs.
Wichita State looked shocked and took a timeout to stop the Jays from coming all the way back.
Following the timeout, sophomore middle blocker Kelli Browning’s attack error put the Shockers at match point.
Browning and Bober teamed up for a block to tie the game back up at 14.
McNary recorded a kill to put the Jays ahead, and Bober sealed the title with a kill to end her impressive night.
McNary said much of the team’s success is because of their ability to tough it out.
“It shows that we have a lot of heart whenever we do five,” McNary said, “so it gives us the confidence that we can win against anyone under adversity.”
The Shockers looked to spoil the Jays’ chances early, never trailing in the opening pair of sets.
After losing the first two sets, the Jays won the final three of the night. The Jays turned the tide the third set, taking a quick 3-0 lead and never squandering it.
Wichita State jumped ahead 2-0, hoping that the trends of the first three sets were still in place, but the Jays tied the game at three and took the lead, for the first lead change of the night.
When the Jays took the lead, they never let it go, leading by as many as five.
“We just got hammered in game two,” Booth said. “To see this team rally and then be in a huge hole in the fifth game, it was a neat way to lock up the first conference championship.”
After the impressive road sweep last weekend, the Jays travel back to the Hammons Student Center in Springfield, Mo. for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
“Getting those five-set wins on the road was big and will carry a lot of confidence going into the weekend,” Bober said.
The Jays own the No. 1 seed and play Friday in the semifinal round against the winner of the Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University match-up that takes place on Thursday.
Coach Booth says that all six teams at tournament are capable of winning it, and the Jays need to be ready for anything.
“We really need to be playing well; we obviously had two tight matches last weekend and we want good momentum going into the NCAA tournament,” Booth said. “We set goals at the beginning of the year. We’ve never had a conference championship and we achieved that and the other goal that (the team) set was they wanted to win the conference tournament, so I think this team is motivated. They want to play a long time and I think they’ll be up for it.”
“Our goal is definitely to come out and win the Valley tournament,” Bober said, “It’s been a goal since the beginning of the season and it’s what we’re focused on now, so right now we’re preparing for our Friday night match and hopefully that carries into Saturday and we can bring home a championship.”
“I think all of us want this so badly and to be able to hold that sign up at the end and kiss that trophy,” Browning said, “We’re really looking forward to it.”