Stetson rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the match and erased a 6-1 deficit in the decisive fifth set to post a thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind victory over visiting UNF 3-2 Friday night at the Edmunds Center.
Behind a school-record 28-kill performance by senior Kaley Melville, the Hatters (9-5, 1-0 Atlantic Sun) won by scores of 25-23, 18-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-12 to win a conference opener for the first time since 2007.
"UNF is a good team, but I was really proud of our girls for winning this," Stetson head coach Tim Loesch said. "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."
Other career-highs for the Hatters included freshman Tiffany Creamer's 19 kills, sophomore Kayla Weller's 57 assists, and freshman Madison Akins's 19 digs.
"We were down 2-1 and things weren't quite going our way," Loesch said. "The girls bought into not looking at the scoreboard, just focusing on each point, playing it they best they could, and that helped us win the fourth set. That gave us some confidence and some momentum going into the fifth set."
Trailing by five early in the decisive set, Melville's 26th kill of the night got the Hatters going. After cutting the gap to 8-5, Stetson rattled off six straight points to surge ahead by three. Ellen Hawks had two blocks during the stretch, including a solo block that put Stetson ahead to stay.
"We started off a little shaky, a little nervous I think, but we weren't going to lose," Hawks said. "That comeback was everyone making the decision that they had energy, that they were going to work hard, and do the little things. It was a mindset that we were going to win, and just everyone having that mindset really made the difference."
Creamer then helped seal the victory, slamming down three of the final four kills including the game-winner from the front left side.
"For a freshman to get 19 kills in her first conference match is amazing," Loesch said about Creamer's performance. "For a lot of it it was against a double block. She was up there twice where she was with just one other hitter, so other team pretty much knew where the ball is going, but she still found a way to be successful."
Melville finished with 13 digs to go along with her 28 kills, a school-record in the rally scoring era. Her first nine kills all came in the first set, and she finished the contest with 57 attack attempts.
"I really liked that the captains accepted their role today," Loesch said. "Today we needed Mel to step up and hit some more balls and she did it. We needed Ellen to block and draw the block from the opposing team and run some different sets that she doesn't normally run. They led by example and by word and the girls followed their lead."
Kayla Weller also recorded a double-double (57 assists, 10 digs).
The win was Stetson's first in league play since 2011, snapping a 21-match A-Sun losing streak.
Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Hatters will look to go 2-0 in A-Sun play as they host Jacksonville at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Notes: The previous rally scoring era kills record was held by Kira Smedley (27 kills vs. Flagler, Nov. 7, 2002) ... Melissa Roy's 31 kills vs. Jacksonville (1996) is the overall school record ... Ellen Hawks finished with five blocks and Michelle Kastner added 16 digs ... Stetson hit .245 for the match ... The Hatters improved to 6-0 at home and 8-1 when winning set one.