Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA) survived four Talladega match points in the final nine rallies Saturday and earned its sixth consecutive Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) volleyball tournament championship with a 16-25, 21-25, 27-25, 25-13, 20-18 victory at Dillard's Dent Hall.
The Gold Nuggets (16-16) earned a sixth consecutive bid to the NAIA National Championship, which will begin Nov. 19.
Tournament MVP Juliana Tomasoni had five kills in the final set, including the match winner. Teammates Hasani Salaam and Amanda Perry joined Tomasoni on the all-tournament team.
XULA trailed 23-19 in the third set before getting five kills from Taylor Ducros to extend the match. XULA evened the match at two sets apiece after an early 8-1 run which included a pair of assisted blocks by Tomasoni and Salaam.
"We knew what we were capable of," Tomasoni said. "We just put everything together. We started over from the third set, and everything worked out. Our communication was so good, and we were more efficient." The fifth set had 10 ties and six lead changes. XULA won the championship on its second match point. XULA rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the fifth to take 7-5 and 13-10 leads, but an attack error and two Talladega kills tied the set at 13. Yet the Lady Tornadoes were unable to clinch despite serving for match point at 15-14, 16-15, 17-16 and 18-17. Preceding Tomasoni's kill was Salaam's block which gave the Gold Nuggets a 19-18 lead.
XULA outhit Talladega .250 to .219. Tomasoni had 23 kills and hit .385, Ducros hit .455 with a career-best 21 kills, and Salaam had 10 kills, four blocks and hit .318. Perry had 14 digs and Kayla Jones 12, and Ralitsa Slanchev served three of the Gold Nuggets' nine aces.
XULA won the GCAC regular-season championship by two matches over Talladega but lost in five sets at Talladega this past weekend — its second conference defeat in six years.
Talladega (21-13) entered the final with a 10-match win streak. The Lady Tornadoes won in five sets Friday against Dillard in the semifinals and rallied from an 8-4 deficit in the fifth.
The Saturday victory gave XULA a sweep of all four GCAC fall championships. The men's and women's cross country teams repeated as conference titlists Oct. 22 — 10th in a row for each. Volleyball secured the regular-season title, also the sixth in a row for XULA, by winning at Southern-New Orleans Oct. 20.