ANDERSON, S.C. – After wrapping up the regular season by winning 10 of its final 12 contests, the Anderson University volleyball team will be searching for the program's fourth appearance in six seasons and its first automatic bid to the NCAA Southeast Regional, as the No. 2 seeded Trojans will play host to seventh-seeded Mars Hill, Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of this week's South Atlantic Conference Tournament.
The Trojans and Mars Hill will be meeting for the third time this season, with first-serve slated for 7 p.m. at the Abney Athletic Center.
Anderson (26-4, 17-3 SAC) is making its seventh consecutive trip to the conference tournament and eighth overall after joining the league for the 2010 campaign.
Anderson is 5-7 in its previous seven appearances in the conference tournament - The Trojans were the No. 6 seed in 2010 and suffered a narrow, 3-2, setback to third-seeded Lincoln Memorial in the quarterfinals. After missing out on the postseason in 2011, AU dropped a 3-1 decision to top-seeded Wingate as the eighth seed six years ago.
The Trojans entered the 2013 tournament as the sixth seed and promptly upset third-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne in the quarterfinals and second-seeded Tusculum in the semifinals before falling to Wingate in the finals. The 2014 season's No. 3 seed marked the previous highest seed earned by the Black and Gold, with Anderson reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third time in school history in 2014 after claiming the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament victory with a four-set win over Tusculum five seasons ago (2013). The Trojans earned victories past Lincoln Memorial and stunned Carson-Newman in the 2014 tourney, while advancing to the finals of the event before falling to eventual champion Wingate for the second straight year in the 2014 championship tilt.
Three seasons ago, AU extended eventual NCAA Southeast Region Champion Carson-Newman to five sets before succumbing at the Abney Athletic Center, while falling to Queens in the 2016 quarterfinals.
As the No. 1 seed a year ago, the Trojans swept Coker at the Abney Center, then dropped a five-set, 3-2 (18-25, 25-22, 12-25, 25-21, 15-10) decision to No. 4 seed and host Carson-Newman before capturing the fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament. AU blanked Queens in the Southeast Region Quarterfinals before falling in five sets to host Flagler.
AU also reached the NCAA Tournament in 2008 after winning the Conference Carolinas Tournament.
The Trojans, who have been ranked fourth for back-to-back weeks in the NCAA's Southeast Region weekly poll, are just the second team in program history to earn 26 wins in a season and are two victories shy of last season's school-record 28 wins.
As a team, the Trojans pace the SAC in kills and assists and rank second the league in aces, kills per set, hitting percentage and assists per set.
Redshirt sophomore Hailee Wilhelm is tied for the top spot in the league with an impressive .338 hitting percentage, with junior Emily Conlin leading the SAC in assists, assists per set, aces and aces per set, while standing 15th in both digs and digs per set.
Wilhelm leads the Trojans with 274 kills on the season and has averaged nearly 16 kills per match over the last six matches and reaching a season-high 20 kills in two of those contests. Senior Jayln Knight has averaged more than 10 kills and nearly 17 digs over the last five outings and is second on the squad with 273 kills and third with 374 digs, while posting 13 double-doubles.
Sophomore Regan Duty reached double-figure kills in three of the last five matches and is third on the team with 223 kills on the season, while Conlin has notched 19 double-doubles, including seven straight. Freshman Liliana Kinder has averaged nearly nine kills per match over the last six outings, with classmate Meghan DeVaux coming up with more than 18 digs per match over the last five matches and averaging a team-high 4.5 digs per set on the year.
Senior Emily Conard has reached double-digit digs in seven straight matches and averaged more than a dozen digs per match during that span. Redshirt freshman Hannah Worsham leads the team and is tied for 19th in the SAC with 52 blocks on the year.
Mars Hill, which posted an 11-17 overall record a season ago, including a 9-11 mark and a sixth place finish in the conference, was a preseason pick to finish seventh in the 2018 SAC Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Junior middle hitter Sally Anne Johnson was named Preseason Second-Team All-SAC, after garnering Honorable Mention all-conference accolades at the conclusion of the 2017 season.
The Lions (16-12, 10-10 SAC) had won two straight road contests before dropping a four-set decision at home two days ago to Carson-Newman.
The Series vs. Mars Hill
The Trojans have swept the last two year's regular-season series with Mars Hill and have won five straight past the Lions after dropping three consecutive decisions to them during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. AU opened its 2018 conference schedule with a 3-1 (25-18, 21-25, 25-15, 25-22) win at Mars Hill in early September, then blanked MHU, 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-10) last month at the Abney Center.
With this season's victories, the Trojans lead the overall series, 14-11. After MHU won the first-ever meeting in 1997, the Trojans won five of the next six meetings over the following 11 seasons. After the Trojans earned three straight wins over the Lions to gain a narrow advantage in the overall series, Mars Hill swept the 2015 season's regular-season matchups to claim a 10-9 edge in the overall series.
Anderson defeated the Lions in AU's inaugural season in the SAC in 2010, with Mars Hill countering by claiming seven straight wins before AU won the 2013 series finale over the Lions and swept both regular-season matchups four years ago. With the three-set road win at Mars Hill last November, the Trojans clinched their first-ever South Atlantic Conference Regular Season Championship.
In two matches versus the Lions this season, Knight led the Black and Gold by knocking down 22 kills and coming up with 35 digs. Wilhelm added 20 kills, with Conlin dishing out 81 assists and recording 31 digs. DeVaux posted a team-high 46 digs and Duty notched three total blocks.
SAC TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
Tuesday, Nov. 6 (at highest seeds)
Game 1: #1 Wingate vs. #8 Catawba, 7:00pm
Game 2: #4 Carson-Newman vs. #5 Lenoir-Rhyne, 7:00pm
Game 3: #2 Anderson vs. #7 Mars Hill, 7:00pm
Game 4: #3 Lincoln Memorial vs. #6 Queens, 7:00pm
Friday, Nov. 9 (at Coker College)
Game 5: winner game 1 vs. winner game 2, 4:00pm
Game 6: winner game 3 vs. winner game 4, 6:30pm
Saturday, Nov. 10 (at Coker College)
Game 7: winner game 5 vs. winner game 6, 2:00pm
SAC TOURNAMENT INDIVIDUAL DAILY TICKETS:
Quarterfinals: Adult - $ 5.00; Youth (12 and under)/Senior (60+) Active or Retired Military - $3.00; College Students with college ID - $ 2.00
Semifinals (at Coker): Adult - $ 10.00; Youth (12 and under)/Senior (60+) Active or Retired Military - $5.00; College Students with college ID - $ 2.00
Finals (at Coker): Adult - $ 8.00; Youth (12 and under)/Senior (60+) Active or Retired Military - $4.00; College Students with college ID - $ 2.00
2018 SAC Volleyball Championship Bracket (pdf)