It took an amazing comeback, but the Lee University volleyball team served notice to Gulf South Conference opponents with a thrilling five-set victory over GSC and NCAA Division II power West Florida on Saturday afternoon in Walker Arena.
It marked only the fifth conference defeat over the past seven seasons for the Pensacola-based squad, which was ranked 17th in last week's NCAA D-II poll. Coach Melissa Wolter was fresh off celebrating her 100th win on Friday when the Argonauts pinned a 3-0 defeat on Shorter. Her record now stands at 100-16.
During the first set and for half of the second set, the Lady Flames (5-1, 2-0) were in command. They claimed the first set (25-18) and enjoyed a five-point margin in the second game when Wolter ordered a timeout and sent what looked like a different Argonaut team onto the sport court. The visitors zipped back with 25-21 and 25-16 wins to take a 2-1 advantage.
"They made some adjustments and we weren't playing well," said coach Andrea Hudson, who is pushing toward the 750 mark in her coaching career. "They forced us to make adjustments and I'm excited about how our girls played the rest of the way."
The Lady Flames were pushed to the limit before pulling out a fourth-set (28-26) thrilling win. The short set also went to the wire before Lee tallied two straight points to complete the huge comeback, 15-13.
"I'm proud to see how our girls responded after the two sets we lost," added Hudson. "West Florida is an outstanding and well-coached team."
After losing three key frontline players from last year's team, Hudson admitted she had some concerns about this unit. Paula Martins, Patty Orozco, Erin Hill, Lauren Williams and Latrice Johnson stepped up to answer some of those concerns on Saturday.
Williams, who is in the midst of her junior season, enjoyed the best performance of her career. She finished with 10 kills and a .381 hitting mark. She also had eight blocks and two digs.
Hill, only a freshman, paced the Lady Flames with 19 slams and a solid .425 hitting percentage. The versatile Martins chipped in with 10 kills, two aces, 18 digs and six blocks. Orozco did her part with 12 kills, four digs and three blocks. Johnson, another one of Hudson's versatile athletes, had nine kills, 18 digs and three blocks.
Kills do not come without assists and Camil Martinez dished off 56 dimes to her teammates. She came up with 19 digs and three blocks. Libby Peigen recorded 23 digs and Deborah Magalhaes followed with 15 digs.
The Argonauts got a big showing from Autumn Duyn, who had 16 kills, 28 digs and two blocks. Leah Buchanan came away with 15 kills. Cora Bidlack totaled 13 slams and Jenny Bellairs added 12 as the Florida club had 74 kills to 63 for the winning Lady Flames. Lee had 16 blocks to just five for West Florida.
On Friday, the Lady Flames splashed into GSC play with a straight set victory over the University of West Alabama (25-19, 25-22, 25-23).
Playing in their first GSC contest the Lady Flames set the tone early for the entire match leading throughout the first set en route to a 25-19 victory.
Balanced scoring anchored the Lee offensive attack. Martins led the way with 10 kills and eight digs. Orozco and newcomer Hill followed with nine slams apiece. Another newcomer, junior-transfer Johnson finished with eight kills and a dozen digs. Setting up the offensive was the setting of Martinez who tallied 34 assists.
“I was glad the girls played hard tonight and didn't give up” said Lee coach Andrea Hudson. “This was a big win for us tonight over a very good West Alabama team.”
After winning the second set 25-22 the Lady Flames appeared to put the match away jumping out to a 23-17 advantage in the third and final set before the Tigers rallied to tie the match at 23. Lee would put the game away with two consecutive kills courtesy of Lauren Williams and Martinez.
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness and kept fighting in the third set when they made a run” noted Hudson.
Peigen anchored the defense with 14 digs while Williams chipped in five kills, four digs and two aces.
The loss drops the Tigers to 6-3 overall and 0-1 in the GSC.
Lee will face its first GSC road assignments Friday and Saturday when it heads south to the Peach State to challenge Valdosta State and West Georgia.