ACU falls to Central Arkansas in championship game

November 19th, 2017 - CORPUS CHRISTI – The ACU Wildcats’ historic run through the Southland Conference Postseason Tournament came to an end Sunday afternoon as they were swept in the championship match by Central Arkansas at the Dugan Wellness Center.

The Sugar Bears rallied from a 21-17 first-set deficit to win the opener, 25-22, and never looked back in winning the next two sets by the scores of 25-17 and 25-22. The Sugar Bears earned their third Southland Conference tournament championship and their first since 2013 and will represent the league in the NCAA Tournament, which begins Nov. 30. UCA will find out its first-round opponent on Nov. 26 when the NCAA hosts its tournament selection show.

ACU was bidding to make even more history than it already had on the weekend with a win Sunday, but it wasn’t to be as the Sugar Bears remained unbeaten all-time against ACU (6-0). The Wildcats – whose block was the key to their wins over Stephen F. Austin and Houston Baptist in the first two rounds – was absent Sunday as they managed just four total blocks compared to eight for UCA.

The Wildcats actually hit .229 in the match, but the Sugar Bears hit a phenomenal .330 with only 11 attack errors in the match. Their speed on the offensive side and physical style of play neutralized everything the Wildcats threw at them in the 94-minute match.

The Wildcats – who on Friday became the first No. 8 seed in tournament history to beat the No. 1 seed – were the first No. 8 seed to ever play for the league championship, and early on they appeared intent on making even more history, jumping out to a big lead and holding it all the way to 21-17 before UCA head coach Jeni Jones-Chatman called timeout to get her team re-focused.

Whatever she said in the timeout huddle worked as the Sugar Bears won eight of the last nine points of the set to take the opener, 25-22. ACU head coach Angela Mooney said she didn’t necessarily think losing the lead hurt her team, but said she does think it gave the Sugar Bears a needed boost.

“Something like that gives the other team momentum; but I don’t think it really affected us in a negative way,” she said. “We’re still learning how to push a team when we have them down, and we didn’t do that in the first set.”

The second set was all UCA as its offense began clicking and ACU got away from its game plan of slowing down the match and trying to negate the Sugar Bears’ offensive speed. Junior outside hitter Haley Tippett had eight kills and eight digs in the second set, leading a UCA offense that hit .562 in the set. Jayce Smith had seven of her match-high 18 kills for the Wildcats, but it wasn’t enough to keep UCA from winning the set, 25-17, and taking a 2-0 lead.

“We just didn’t execute our scout or our game plan in the second set,” Mooney said. “We didn’t impose our will and make them play our game by slowing things down. Instead we let them get their offense going, and it was hard to stop.”

The Wildcats fell behind big early in the third set, but rallied back to tie it at 21-21 as they clung to life in the match. But Chatman once again called a timeout and the Sugar Bears outscored ACU 4-1 in the final five points of the match to take a 25-22 win, earning the conference championship.

“I don’t think we ran out of gas at all,” Mooney said. “We were focused and ready to play (Sunday), so that wasn’t an issue. We’ve just never been in this situation and didn’t have the maturity and experience we needed to know how to handle the ups and downs of a championship match.”

Smith and setter Kendall Bosse were named to the all-tournament team for ACU, which will return its entire starting lineup in 2018, minus senior hitter Corinne Grandcolas, who had nine kills and hit .353 in her final match as a Wildcat. ACU finishes 13-18 on the season, but the run to the conference championship match will most certainly embolden this squad going into 2018.

“We talked in the locker room after (Sunday’s) match about leaving this arena without hanging our heads,” Mooney said. “We didn’t just make history once, we did it all weekend, and we had a chance to make even more (Sunday). I told them that this is our standard and our expectation now. I’m so proud of how we finished the season and how we came together and fought to get into the position to win a conference championship. Certainly we’re not happy with the outcome, but we’re happy with the growth we showed and how we played at the end of the season.”

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