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JACKSON, Miss.—For the first time in the program’s history, the Alabama State University volleyball program has won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament when they defeated Alabama A&M 3-2 (28-30, 25-19, 22-25, 25-21, 18-16) in today’s championship game.  With the championship comes the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, also another first in the program’s history.Southwestern Athletic Conference
Rachel Smith and Myla Marshall were named to the All-Tournament Team with Smith taking home the Most Valuable Player honors.  Head Coach Penny Lucas-White was named the SWAC Coach of the Year.
“It was an excellent match and very suspenseful, but I think it is like my ladies have done all year and that is they have been resilient,” Lucas-White said.  “I’ve never seen them give up at any time during a match and I am very pleased with their performance.”
“I think what our ladies decided to do outside the season had an impact on this season.  They worked hard in the weight room, they worked hard in the classroom and I think they reaped the benefits.  They understood what it meant to win the SWAC.  We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they were willing to pay the price.”
Smith made the championship game her exclamation point in her MVP-winning performance.  She put together her second double-double of the tournament with a game and team-high 19 kills, while also adding 14 digs and a team-high five blocks.
“Rachel has consistently gotten better as the season progressed,” Lucas-White said.  “You can look at her stats and see how she has increased her numbers.  Once we gave her the test that she needs to kill half the balls that are set to her she kind of took that to heart and she was able to deliver.”
Myla Marshall hit .429 while collecting 15 kills and Tiara Kelley and Amber Bennett added 14 kills each.
Brooke Beasley added her team-high sixth double-double of the season with 36 assists and 12 digs.  Luiza Griz had a team-high 15 digs and Ellyn Jones added 13 digs to go with her 19 assists in adding a third person to completing a double-double in the game.
The championship match featured 47 ties and 21 lead changes.  It all started in the first set with 14 tie scores.  Neither team led by more than four points with ASU’s largest lead at 5-1 and AAMU’s at 20-16.  In the end AAMU was able to win the extra points set 30-28.
ASU was able to even the set count at one with a 25-19 win in the second set.  There were 10 ties and this time it was that ASU made the late run to pull it out.  With AAMU leading 15-14 ASU went on an 11-4 run to end the set.
After the break the two teams got right back into another barn-burner featuring another nine tie scores, with the last coming at 22.  From there AAMU scored the final three points for the 25-22 win and putting ASU one game away from a tournament runners-up finish.
The Hornets would have none of that in the fourth set coming out and scoring the first three points.  AAMU stayed within striking distance and even took a lead at 9-8.  With both teams sitting on 13, ASU put together their best run of the game scoring the next five points to go up 18-13.
AAMU did come back and cut the lead to 18-16, but that would be as close as they got in ASU’s 25-21 win, sending the game into a fifth and deciding set.
That final set may have been the most exciting of the game.  Neither team wanted to give an inch in the championship decider.  ASU’s largest lead was four points at 6-2 and AAMU never led by more than one as the teams went through another 10 tie scores.
Both team’s had one point leads with the serve to win the game, but it was ASU who trailed 16-15 and then broke serve to even the score and finished the game and the championship with the final two points for the win.
ASU had to go through Jackson State twice earlier in the day to make it into the championship game.
ASU fell to the Tiger’s in the first game up between the two teams 3-2 (25-22, 25-23, 16-24, 22-25, 10-15).  It started off well for ASU as they were able to win the first two sets of the game.  The two teams took a break between the second and third game and the break seemed to break ASU’s momentum as JSU came back to win the next three games sending the two team in to an elimination game.
Smith had 17 kills in the game and Marshall added 11.  ASU had a problem when SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Luiza Griz went out with an injury after the second game, hurting the Lady Hornets on defense. She finished the game with 11 digs, all in the first two games.
ASU also struggled hitting the ball and finished with a .138 hitting percentage.  ASU had 10 blocks in the game with Bennett finishing with five and Marshall with four.
The first set of the game saw 10 ties the final at 18.  From there the Hornets ended the set on a 7-4 run for the 25-22 win.  ASU hit .317 in the set which was the best hitting percentage in the game.
The second game was like the first as the teams battled through eight ties before each team had a mini run.  The first came from JSU as the Tigers went on a 4-0 run to go from being down 16-15 to being up 19-16.  ASU came all the way back to even the score at 19 and after both teams went through even scores at 20, 21 and 22, ASU got two service aces from Chelsey Scott to go up 24-22.  After a point from JSU the Lady Hornets put the game away at 25-23.
Following the break, JSU came out and after 10 ties and the game even at 15, the Tigers caught fire which lasted the next through the next few games.  JSU scored seven consecutive points to go up 22-15 and ended the game on a 10-1 run which ended the game at 25-16.
JSU sent the game to a fifth set after fighting with ASU through another six ties and with the score even at 21, JSU put the game away 25-22.
The fifth set saw JSU jump out 4-1 and 9-4 en route to a 15-10 decision, sending the game into an extra elimination game.
Alabama State came back in the elimination game and defeated Jackson State 3-1 (24-26, 25-20, 25-23, 25-17) to play their way into the SWAC Championship game.
Kelley led ASU with a game-high 14 kills and Smith had 10.  Beasley had 27 assists and teammate Ellyn Jones had 15.  Griz and Jones led the team with nine digs each.
JSU came out in the elimination game and the first set of the game was just like the first game between the two teams.  There were a total of 11 tie scores with the final tie coming at 22.  From there the Tigers scored three of the final four points for a 25-23 win and a 1-0 lead in the elimination game.
After losing four consecutive sets (three in the first game and the first in the second), ASU began to turn the tide in the second set of the elimination game.
ASU and JSU played through five even scores with the final coming at 17.  In the previous four sets that were losses, the Lady Hornets struggled finishing the sets.  This time they did not, as they outscored JSU 8-3 to pull out the 25-20 win.
The third set is where ASU took control early leading by as much as 21-13, but JSU fought their way back into the game and actually cut the lead to 24-23 after a 10-3 run, but Beasley put an end to the run with a kill to finish the game.
The fourth set was all ASU.  The Lady Hornets started off the game leading 7-2 and went on to lead 20-13 on their way to the game-deciding 25-17 victory, putting ASU in the SWAC Championship game.
“They (the team) were resilient and tenacious and you could see it in their eyes,” Lucas-White said.  “They were always hungry and I never saw doubt and when they looked to the coaches for information they ate it up, applied it, but more than anything they believed in each other.  You should hear what they say to each other between sets two and three it’s what they say to one another that lets me know that we are going to be all right.”
“We have lived with two slogans this season and one is living with the pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.  And that was enough and they understood that.  Our focus coming into this tournament was to lock in on our opponent, get loaded and let’s execute.  That doesn’t always mean you’re going to win in three, but as long as you know you’re in battle with people that have your back we will end up with the right outcome.”
The wins gave ASU 25 victories on the season which is the most wins since the 1993 season when the ASU program won 22 games.


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