The Stetson volleyball team's historic season came to end in the Atlantic Sun Conference quarterfinals Thursday night as the Hatters fell 3-2 to Florida Gulf Coast at the KSU Convocation Center in Kennesaw, Ga.
After the teams traded victories through the first four sets, the Eagles (14-18) took the decisive fifth set 15-12 to advance to conference semifinals.
For the season, the Hatters (18-16) posted their highest win total in 25 years and qualified for postseason play for the first time since 1995.
"They were amazing," Stetson head coach Tim Loesch said about his team's performance this season. "They worked really hard and worked well together. They were very coachable. I am really glad we were able to show everybody just how good our team was, and that we earned the right to go to the tournament and that we played well in it. I am just really proud of the team."
Freshman Tiffany Creamer led the Hatters with 14 kills, while senior Kaley Melville notched a double-double of 12 kills and 23 digs in her final career match. It was her 14th double-double of the season, and the 41st of her career.
Fellow senior Ellen Hawks recorded three blocks in her final match, the final one accounting for the 400th block of her career. She is just one of four players in Atlantic Sun history (since 2001) to have reached that milestone, and the only Hatter to have done so.
Both Melville and Hawks played in 123 consecutive matches in their careers without missing a single one.
A seesaw opening set featured 20 ties and 13 lead changes as both teams battled for an early lead. Stetson staved off four set points, including two in a row at 24-22, and a snared a 30-28 win for a 1-0 lead in the match.
FGCU used an early 7-1 run in the second set to help capture a 25-18 win, tying the match at a game apiece. The Eagles came out even hotter in the third set, taking a 16-4 lead before settling for a 25-12 victory and a 2-1 lead.
The Hatters fought back, however, and an early service run by Kayla Weller that featured three aces sparked Stetson to a 7-0 lead in the fourth set. Weller led all players with five aces in the match, tying a career-best. The Hatters held off a late Eagles' rally to win the frame 25-17, forcing a decisive fifth set.
The final stanza featured 10 straight side-outs as the teams battled to a 5-5 tie. FGCU moved ahead 7-5 before three straight points by Stetson gave the Hatters an 8-7 lead at the fifth-set changeover.
The Eagles responded with what turned out to be a game-winning 4-0 run, and as the teams traded points down the stretch, FGCU held on for the three-point victory.
"We came out with a lot of energy and fought for every point in the first set," Loesch said. "Even though Gulf Coast fought back and played really well in the next two sets, I thought our team showed a lot of heart and dominated the fourth set, and we nearly pulled it out in the fifth.
"Mel and Ellen provided great leadership for us again," Loesch added. "Mel led us in digs which was awesome, and Ellen had a good all-around match, both offensively and defensively. I also wanted to recognize Kayla Weller who set a great match for us and also served amazing tonight. I also thought Morgan Pautsch and Cailyn Prewitt were big sparks off the bench. They came in and performed well at crucial times for us."
Madison Akins and Hawks chipped in eight kills apiece offensively, while Alexa Drost (20 digs) and Michelle Kastner (10 digs) helped pace Stetson in the back row. Weller registered 45 assists, and finished the season with a school-record 1,269 assists.