They say things come in three’s; three was the magic number for the Greenville University volleyball team on Saturday. The Panthers used a three-game sweep in their semifinals match of the 2017 SLIAC Volleyball Tournament and then, after dropping the first two sets in the championship match, won the final three sets to pick up their third consecutive conference tournament title, defeating Westminster College in the third consecutive championship meeting.
The Panthers squared off against top-seeded and host Westminster, marking the first time since 2011 Greenville was not playing host to the tournament. In front of their home crowd, the Blue Jays took the first two sets of the match including a thrilling 28-26 opening set. Greenville led the opening set 23-22 but Westminster picked up back to back kills from Ashley Kistaitis to grab the lead. Hannah Marshall and Allie Kennebeck teamed up for the final two points in the set to give Westminster an early lead. The Blue Jays recorded a whopping 22 kills in the opening set.
The Blue Jays carried that momentum into the second set, opening up a 16-10 lead before cruising to a 25-17 win. Despite hitting just .128 in the second set, after hitting .349 in the first set, Westminster was still able to take a 2-0 lead in the match as Greenville finished with six errors and just five kills in the second set.
Greenville, however, had been in this position before, and not just being in the championship match but an eerily similar situation being down 2-0 in the championship match. Just two years ago the Panthers fell behind 2-0 to Westminster before rallying for a 3-2 win. On this Saturday, the Panthers would repeat that performance.
Alex Falcone got the Panthers off on the right foot with a service ace to start the third set. Back to back kills from Anna Finch put Greenville up 3-1 early and gave the Panthers the serve. They would build up a 6-1 lead, off another kill by Finch. Greenville extended their lead to 20-9 before closing out the set with a 25-18 win. Greenville finished with a match-best 16 kills in the set.
The two teams played an even fourth set, with the score tied at 8-8 until back to back Blue Jays errors gave the Panthers all the room they would need on the scoreboard. Finch put a kill down to extend the Greenville lead with the Panthers rolling to a 25-18 win once again, pulling even in the match.
Westminster took the first point in the fifth set, on a kill from Hannah Marshall but once again it was Finch that responded for the Panthers with back to back kills. With the score tied at 8-8, the Panther turned to SLIAC Player of the Year Allyson Mitchell. Mitchell gave the Panthers the lead with a kill and they would not look back, running off five straight points, with three of those points from the arm of Mitchell. It would Mitchell, teaming up with Finch, to provide Greenville with the final two points of the match and handing the Panthers the 2017 title.
Greenville hit an impressive .524 in the fifth and final set, putting down 11 kills with no errors on just 21 attempts. They hit .199 as a team in the match with Finch leading the way with 18 kills and no errors. Mitchell picked up tournament MVP honors after totaling 17 kills in the championship match and adding 14 more in the semifinals match earlier in the day. Brittni Bell finished with 15 kills and three block assists. All three Panthers were named to the All-Tournament team.
Westminster hit .167 in the match with Ashley Kistaitis leading all players with 27 kills. Bridget Ringwald recorded digs as the two were named to the All-Tournament team.
Earlier in the day, Greenville swept Webster 3-0 in one semifinal match while Westminster defeated Principia 3-0 in the other semifinals meeting. Emily Tippets earned All-Tournament honors for Principia while Rachel Mencel earned the honor for Webster.