The first half of the 2013 Stetson University volleyball season has been nothing short of amazing. After five and a half weeks of competition, the Hatters (13-6, 4-0 A-Sun) are breaking new ground and achieving milestones that the program has not seen for years.
Tuesday's contest at Florida Atlantic concluded the non-conference portion of the schedule. As the team prepares to jump back into league play with a 6 p.m. Friday night match against Florida Gulf Coast (5-10, 3-1) at the Edmunds Center, GoHatters.com takes a look back at Stetson's incredible run during the first half of the season.
In late August, Stetson traveled over 1600 miles to compete at the UniWyo Invitational in Laramie, Wyo., where the Hatters posted their first season-opening win since 2004 (3-1 vs. Drake). Stetson fell short in its other three matches that weekend, but played one of the longest sets in the NCAA this year, a 36-34 back-and-forth battle against Wyoming in the third game of the match.
Stetson returned home and swept all four matches in the Westin Classic, making short work of Bethune-Cookman, Providence, and Savannah State twice. Kaley Melville and Kayla Weller earned co-MVP honors, while Ellen Hawks was named the Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Week. With five wins in eight matches, the Hatters had already surpassed their win total for all of 2012.
Stetson then traveled to Hammond, La., for the Lion Classic, and after opening the tournament with a 3-0 victory over Southern University, the Hatters had their first five-match win streak in 25 years. Southeastern Louisana ended that streak later that day, and with a 3-0 loss to Nebraska-Omaha the next morning, Stetson was facing the possibility of another 1-3 weekend. Between matches, after the coaches talked to team, the captains (Melville and Hawks) held a players-only meeting, which proved to be a major turning point in the first-half of the season.
“We wanted the other girls to have a chance to say what they wanted to say,” Hawks recalled. “They said some really good things about picking up the energy, what we need to do, and how we need to trust each other. Then we took a second and I said, ‘This is where we decide what we want to be about. Mel and I know what we want this team to be about, but this is also on you. You have to take ownership of it. Don’t tell us. Come back out and show us. We decide now, and once we decide, we are not changing it.’”
The Hatters took the court against Louisiana Tech, and despite falling 27-25 in the first set, Stetson came roaring back, hitting a phenomenal .457 over the final three sets to pull away with a convincing 3-1 victory.
Stetson defeated Bethune-Cookman at home for a second time on Sept. 17, and with a record of 8-5, the Hatters were off to their best start since 1996. Next came conference play as Stetson hosted UNF on Sept. 20, and despite trailing 2-1 in the match and 6-1 in the decisive fifth set, the Hatters rallied for a 3-2 win and a huge shot of confidence moving forward.
"UNF is a good team, but I was really proud of our girls for winning this," head coach Tim Loesch said after the match. "I don't feel like UNF gave it to us, they fought hard and played well, but I was proud of our girls for playing just a little bit tougher and a little bit better on this particular day."
The victory ended a 21-match conference losing streak and kept Stetson undefeated at home, but the Hatters had a quick turnaround to get ready for a 10-1 Jacksonville team the next afternoon. The Dolphins played the comeback role that day, forcing a fifth set after trailing 2-0. However, it was the Hatters prevailing down the stretch once again for another dramatic 3-2 win. Stetson improved to 10-5 overall, 2-0 in the A-Sun, and 7-0 at home. Melville was chosen as the A-Sun Player of the Week, while Creamer earned the first of two straight A-Sun Freshman of the Week honors.
Stetson stayed hot with a midweek win at Bethune-Cookman, in front of a loud and energized crowd at Moore Gym. The Hatters returned home for two more A-Sun matches against Mercer and Kennesaw State, which proved to be just as competitive as the first set of matches against UNF and JU. Stetson was able to close out both matches in four sets to take over sole possession of first-place in the conference standings with a 4-0 mark.
The Hatters were also 13-5 for the first time in school history (records date back to 1980, program dates back to 1970), 9-0 at home for the first-time ever, and 4-0 in the league for the first time since 2002.
The team has also had four A-Sun Player of the Week honorees, seven all-tournament team selections, and Melville has become the fifth player in school history to surpass 1000 kills and 1000 digs.
Stetson will look to carry that momentum into the second-half, which starts with Friday's match-up with FGCU. Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for students and seniors (Stetson students, faculty, and staff are free with an ID), while live video and live stats will be available on HatterVision and GoHatters.com.