WINGATE, N.C. – The Anderson University volleyball team's bid to reach the NCAA's Sweet 16 for the first time in program history fell just shy, as the Trojans battled to overcome a two-set deficit, but top-seeded Wingate edged the No. 4 seeded Trojans, 3-1 (25-17, 25-17, 10-25, 25-19) in the semifinals of the 2018 NCAA Southeast Region Tournament, Friday night at Cuddy Arena.
"While it's disappointing to have our season come to a close, we can look back on it with nothing but positive thoughts," said Anderson head coach Todd Hay. "Our seniors truly led our team from day one and brought a sense of family to the group. Their legacy is set and they are champions."
Anderson saw its season end with a stellar 28-6 record, while Wingate (31-1) improved to 17-0 at home this season and will be looking for its fifth Southeast Region title when it squares off against second-seeded USC Aiken, which held off an upset bid by No. 6 seed Georgia College earlier Friday.
"We look forward to some time off but eagerly await the offseason and our time to train and push forward," added Hay. "We are proud to be AU Trojans and want to continue to strive for excellence in all that we do."
The Trojans had knocked off the perennial regional powerhouse three times in their last five meetings, with all three victories coming at the Abney Center and the two teams had traded four-set victories during the regular season, with each squad defending its own home court.
INSIDE THE BOX SCORE
Sophomore Regan Duty shared match-high honors with 14 kills, while senior Jayln Knight, sophomore Hailee Wilhelm and freshman Liliana Kinder each knocked down six kills apiece. Junior setter Emily Conlin posted a double-double with 32 assists and a match-high 27 digs. Senior Megan Embry came up with 16 digs, while freshman Meghan DeVaux and senior Emily Conard tallying nine digs apiece. Wilhelm also notched three block assists on the night.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Wingate scored the first five points of the opening set and the Trojans were unable to completely recover. Behind an early .455 hitting percentage, the Bulldogs opened an 8-3 lead and never trailed.
Trailing, 9-4, the Trojans strung together three straight points to trim the deficit to just two, but Wingate put together a 7-2 surge that gave the home team a 16-9 advantage. AU responded with a 5-2 run of its own to force a Wingate timeout and the Trojans closed the gap to just three (18-15) before the Bulldogs rebuilt a late seven-point edge and claimed the eight-point win.
Wingate posted the first point of the second frame, but the Trojans quickly got their feet back under them, as they scored four straight points to claim an early 4-1 edge. The Black and Gold pushed out to a 7-3 advantage behind a pair of kills from Duty and two errors by the Bulldogs, and held a four-point lead twice more before the Bulldogs went on a 5-1 run to knot the score for just the second time, at 11 apiece.
AU countered with two straight, as Knight posted a kill and Knight followed a block, but Wingate responded with 10 unanswered points to put the set out of reach. Trailing, 21-13, Conlin notched a kill and freshman Maya Learmonth posted back-to-back kills to pull AU within 21-16, but it was as close as AU would get, as the "Dogs closed out the set with a 4-1 surge.
The Trojans bounced back in the third frame by bolting out to a 12-5 lead, with Kinder posting a pair of kills, AU posting two service aces and capitalizing on three Wingate errors.
Wingate got within five, at 12-7, but the Trojans closed the door with a decisive 9-1 outburst to claim an insurmountable, 21-8, cushion and scored four of the final five points of the set to earn the decisive 15-point win and force a fourth set.
After the Bulldogs scored the opening point of the frame, AU responded by taking a four-point lead on three occasions, including a 9-5 advantage on a Bulldog miscue.
The Trojans held the advantage, but Wingate remained within striking distance and used a 7-0 run to turn a 13-10 Trojan lead into a four-point lead (17-13) of their own.
A pair of kills from Kinder trimmed the Wingate lead to just one twice, but Wingate responded by scoring the final five points.
• The Trojans finished their season by equaling last year's team for most wins in a single season.
• The Trojans were making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball Championship.
• The Trojans are 3-5 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
• The Bulldogs also defeated AU in the 2008 and 2013 Southeast Regionals.