The Stetson sand volleyball team came within two points of capturing the Atlantic Sun Conference championship on Sunday, but UNF rallied for a 3-2 victory in the conference title game at the Dolphin Beach Volleyball Complex in Jacksonville.
The defeat capped a long day in which the Hatters (13-11) fell 4-1 to UNF in a winner's bracket game early Sunday morning, followed by a dramatic 3-2 win over host Jacksonville in the tournament semifinals Sunday afternoon.
"When we played UNF earlier in the day it was a really close match, and (the championship game) was even closer," Stetson head coach Tim Loesch said. "I'm proud of the girls for bouncing back after the loss in the winner's bracket to make their way back to play UNF again."
Stetson jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the championship match, claiming a 2-0 win at the no. 4 seed and a 2-1 win at the no. 5 seed. After the top three seeds took the courts, UNF knotted the contest with 2-0 wins at the no. 1 and no. 2 seeds.
The put the match in the hands of the no. 3 seeds, where Stetson's Savannah Byl and Katie DiGirolamo took the opening set 21-19. The pair battled all the way to a 19-19 tie in the second set before UNF survived with a 21-19 win. In the winner-take-all third set, the Ospreys came away with a 15-10 victory.
"I was extremely proud of all the girls," Loesch said. "It was a great effort and they represented Stetson, their team, their teammates and their coaches very well. Something I asked them to do throughout the season was to fight to fight for every point, every game, and every match. They certainly did that today, and it could have gone either way. Give credit to UNF, they are a really good team, and we almost pulled it out."
Stetson had to battle through a dramatic semifinal match with Jacksonville just to reach the title game. With the score tied 2-2, Claudia Kalin and Julie Bassett won a hard-fought 23-21 second set at the no. 2 seed to clinch the victory for Stetson.
"It was a great atmosphere to be in today," Loesch said. "Everyone was cheering, yelling, screaming, and celebrating our wins. I am really really proud of all the girls. Coach Megan was a great help as well. Our trainer Therasa kept the girls together so they could compete despite some injuries. It was a great effort and I am just proud of the whole team."
Senior Alisha Hoffman and sophomore Catherine Coston were selected to the all-tournament team after going a perfect 4-0 on the weekend at the no. 4 seed. Hoffman finishes her final season with a first-team all-conference award, an academic all-conference honor, and an all-tournament team selection.
"A perfect tri-fecta," Loesch said about Hoffman's accolades. "That is something I look for in players. I make them all promise to be great athletes, great teammates, and great students, and Alisha definitely accomplished all three.
"We will miss Alisha a lot, and she was a big part of our success this year, but she is the only one we are losing," Loesch added. "For the rest of the team, they are ready to come back and battle for the title again next year."
Stetson 3, Jacksonville 2
#1: Taylor Nyquist/Sammie Strausbaugh (JU) def. Kaley Melville/Maren Rygh (STET) 21-19, 21-16
#2: Claudia Kalin/Julie Bassett (STET) def. Kendall Courtney/Niatha Cullen (JU) 21-17, 23-21
#3: Katie DiGirolamo/Savannah Byl (STET) def. Gabriela Roman/Alyssa Robertson (JU) 21-18, 21-18
#4: Catherine Coston/Alisha Hoffman (STET) def. Thayla Pagan/Kylie Jacob (JU) 21-13, 21-12
#5: Emily Laskelle/Nicole Teplitz (JU) def. Jordann Dierickx/Erika White (STET) 21-18, 19-21, 15-10
Stetson 2, UNF 3
#1: Anna Budinska/Dagnija Medina (UNF) def. Kaley Melville/Maren Rygh (STET) 21-19, 21-14
#2: Carolyn Jenkins/Cari Whitmire (UNF) def. Claudia Kalin/Julie Bassett (STET) 21-13, 21-19
#3: Anna Wagner/Emily Strack (UNF) def. Katie DiGirolamo/Savannah Byl (STET) 19-21, 21-19, 15-10
#4: Catherine Coston/Alisha Hoffman (STET) def. Britt Classens/Nicole Baran (UNF) 21-13, 21-18
#5: Jordann Dierickx/Erika White (STET) def. Paige Pridgeon/Cameron McGuire (UNF) 21-16, 18-21, 15-7