By Jake Crouse, Copy Editor
Though the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (UTC) Mocs beat Furman out for the SoCon regular season title, the Paladins defeated the Mocs in straight sets to claim the 2015 SoCon Volleyball Championship title. The tournament was held at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.
Furman opened its series against Mercer and took a tightly contested 25-22 first set win. However, the Bears rallied back in the next set to win 25-19, the only set Furman would lose in the tournament. But behind the 17-kill performance of freshman outside hitter Jamila Johnson, the Paladins would roll past Mercer in the following 25-13 and 25-20 sets. Johnson led the offense with a .516 hitting percentage and sophomore libero Meg DeMaar dug 19 hits to head the defensive stats.
The Paladins then met University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG) in the second round after downing them on senior night the previous week at home. Though UNCG has a strong defense headed by SoCon Libero of the Year Katherine Santiago, Furman had no trouble landing kill after kill, posting a .346 team hitting percentage. The Paladins took the match in straight sets, holding the Spartans under 20 each set. Junior outside hitter Annie Bierman posted 12 kills in the match, and DeMaar led the defense again with 19 digs.
In the championship round, Furman faced UTC, the number one seed who won the regular season title by one game over the Paladins. Furman started fast with a 5-0 run in the first set, and a late 6-0 run gave the Paladins an easy first set win, 25-16. The Mocs battled back in the second set, but were unable to challenge another 5-0 run from Furman and the Paladins took the second set 25-20. In the third set, no team led by more than three, but with UTC leading 24-22, Furman rallied two points to extend the game. With the Paladins ahead 26-25, senior outside hitter Allie Davenport of the Mocs played her shot past the back line, giving the Paladins the 27-25 third set win and the championship title. Bierman led both offense and defense with 16 kills and 14 digs.
Bierman, DeMaar and senior setter Jo Wilks were named to the All-SoCon Tournament team, and Wilks was also named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Just before the tournament began, four players achieved all-SoCon honors. Bierman was named SoCon Player of the Year and joined Wilks on the All-SoCon First Team. Johnson and freshman middle blocker Carris Campbell were also named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team.
In the last match, Bierman’s double-double put her in the 1000 kills/1000 digs club, a statistic that had not been reached at Furman since assistant coach Natalie Braun achieved that number in 2012. Wilks also added to her already school-record assist total, which sits at 5,189 after the SoCon championship game.
The Paladins will face ninth-seeded Kansas in the first round Dec. 3