The University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears, battling the tournament’s top seed all over the court and fierce at the net, came within a couple of points of advancing to the title match of the Southland Conference volleyball tournament.
The Sugar Bears (17-15) defeated Texas State in two straight sets after dropping the first two and led the Bobcats (26-7) 12-9 in the final set before falling 25-18, 30-28, 23-25, 21-25, 16-14 in a dandy of a semifinal match at the Farris Center.
Texas State recorded a team hitting percentage of .394 in the opening set to win, 25-18. The Bobcats controlled the set from the start and never trailed the Sugar Bears. The Bobcats had four players who hits .375 or better in the set with conference player of the year Amber Calhoun (.750), Ashlee Hilbun (.500), Amari Deardorff (.429) and Lindy DeGeare. Hilbun also contributed with four kills, four digs and one block assist. Freshman Scout Brooks lead the Sugar Bears’ offense attack with five kills.
Texas State fought off two UCA set points and finally converted of its fourth set-point attempt to claim the 30-28 win. The two teams were within two points of each another the entire set, but it was the Bobcats that took advantage of their opportunities late in the set. Calhoun, the senior middle blocker for Texas State, had seven kills on eight attempts for a .875 hitting percentage for the set. She also added two digs and one block assist. UCA’s Brooks almost matched Calhoun’s performance with six kills on eight attempts for a .625 attack percentage.
The third set was as hard fought as the second as both teams battling throughout, but this time the Sugar Bears capitalized on their set point to win, 25-23. With the score tied 20-20, the 13th tie of the set, UCA won the next two points to give it the late advantage. Freshman Alicia Dittrich notched seven kills on nine attempts for a .667 hitting percentage in the set for UCA. Setter Marissa Collins dished out 18 assists for the Sugars Bears while libero Cristin Curl recorded eight digs. The Bobcats were led by second-team all-conference member Melissa Toth, who hit for .625 with five kills and two block assists.
UCA rallied behind the partisan crowd in the fourth set to win, 25-21. The Sugar Bears led most of the set but never more than three points; however, every time the Bobcats closed within a point late in the set, the Sugar Bears had an answer. UCA’s defense held Texas State to a .097 hitting percentage for the set. Dittrich contributed with another high hitting percentage (.750) with her three kills on four attempts. Toth added five kills for Texas State on the set while Hilbun recorded four block assists and one block solo in the set.
Texas State rallied from 12-9 down in the final set to score five of the final seven points to win the decisive set, 16-14. Calhoun recorded her only kill of the set to seal the match for the Bobcats in a match in which both teams battled until the end.
Texas State advances to the championship match at 2 p.m Sunday for a chance to earn the Southland Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.