The Sandhills Community College volleyball team fell one win short of qualifying for the NJCAA Division III National Championship for the third year in a row, following an 18-25, 15-25 and 17-25 loss to Owens CC at the Hangar on Saturday.
Later Owens, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, swept Ohio rival, and No. 3 ranked Columbus State CC, 25-17, 25-12 and 25-19 in the championship match of the Mid-Atlantic District Championship. Both winner and runner-up advance to the National Championship in Rochester, MN on November 14-16.
The Lady Flyers made it to the semi-finals as the Pod 1 runner-up after splitting their two matches on Friday. They defeated Howard CC (MD) 25-8, 25-12 and 25-7 in the first match of the day before falling 9-25, 17-25 and 16-25 to Columbus State.
With 13 first-year Flyers, Coach Alicia Riggan's squad finished the season with an overall record of 21-12. They won all ten of their Region 10 matches, capturing conference regular season and tournament titles in the process.
"It's unique that other than Stephanie Pages (transfer from Pfeiffer) everybody is coming back," the coach said afterward. "While this is a disappointing end, they checked two out of the four boxes they wanted to check.
"Back in August, I thought those goals might be too high for us and they competed against the best teams in the nation. They are all going to get better this spring and we'll go after the other two goals next season."
In the first of Friday's Pod 1 and 2 matches involving the winners and runner-ups from Regions 10, 12 and 20, Flyer middle hitter Carley Modlin had nine kills, and outside hitter Morrigan Denman, eight, in the sweep over Howard (MD). Setters Camryn Lowe (18) and Adison Campbell (8) combined for 26 assists.
The Lady Flyers also used long service runs to ease their way past the Dragons. Two of Alexus McCrimmon's four aces came as she served for the final 11 points of the second set. Willow Williams was credited with three of her five aces during a 13-0 run early in the third.
The Flyers were defeated by both Columbus State and 2018 national champion, Owens, at a Labor Day weekend tournament in Perrysburg, Ohio. Coming into the district event, three of the national leaders in kills were on display at the Hangar in Tyriana Settles of Owens, first (505) Bobby Diamond Columbus State, fourth (402) and Modlin, fifth (364). Modlin is also third nationally in solo blocks (90) and fourth in total blocks (114).
In their second Pod 1 match on Friday, the Flyers fell behind Columbus State 17-3 in the first set. They led 11-9 at one point in the second, and 15-13 in the third, before the Ohioans pulled away. Modlin recorded six kills and five solo blocks. Denman finished with five kills and 13 digs.
In Saturday morning's first semi-final match against Owens, the Lady Flyers played inspired, leading 13-11 in the first set before the Express went on to take it by scoring seven of the last eight points. They led 7-2 early in the second before the Express took control for good.
Christen Klontz led the Flyers with eight kills, 13 digs and three service aces.
"The girls were playing super-aggressive and it seemed like they couldn't care less who we were playing," Riggan said. "Just like against Columbus we were first to five and 10 and then we backed off a little bit. Unfortunately you have to keep up the energy and the momentum and press through until you are to 25."
Klontz talked about the final match of the season and the future.
"It was kind of gut-wrenching to have the feeling that the season is over, but I feel in that game we were more together as a team than we have been all season," the Gray Stone Day School grad said. "We were talking positive, we cheered each other up and we didn't get down. I feel this is going to make us stronger next year."
The Region 20 champion, Butler County (PA), was defeated by Columbus State in Saturday's other semi-final setting up the all-Ohio final. Led by Settles, Owens (40-4) repeated as national champions with their fourth win in a row this season over Columbus State (26-9).
According to Riggan, many compliments were received from the visitors about the athletic facilities being first class and the beauty of the campus. Soon the preparations resume in terms of recruiting and off-season conditioning for next season.
"As one of the Owens supporters left the Hangar, he complimented Riggan on how much her team has improved since the Labor Day tournament in Ohio.
"From watching film of the first time we played Owens and Columbus State what is inspiring is to know the girls have so much potential," Riggan said. "My job is to help bring that out."