In a tournament final that clearly pitted the two best teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, the College of Charleston outlasted new rival Northeastern in an intense four-set match, 3-1 (27-25, 27-25, 19-25, 25-23). A partisan crowd of 675 packed the North Charleston Convention Center to watch the Cougars and Huskies.
College of Charleston secured its first tournament championship in the CAA just a week after winning the conference's regular season title with a 13-1 conference record. Charleston (25-5) will make its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and eighth in the last 13 years with the CAA's automatic bid.
The title match featured 47 ties and 19 lead changes as three different sets were decided by two points. The Cougars and Huskies were nearly equal in kills (63-62) and both teams' defenses held the other offense to under .250 hitting.
"We were part of an epic volleyball match today," head coach Jason Kepner said. "I'm so proud of the effort and determination from both teams. It was a great way for a championship to be determined, and our team found a way to come out on top. This has been an incredible season for our program in this new conference, and we hope to represent it well in the NCAA Tournament."
Darcy Dorton won the CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player after tallying 19 kills and 13 digs in the title match. She finished the weekend with 4.57 digs per set, hitting .256. Dorton's big day culminated with a kill from the back row to win the match after a long rally.
Her honor marked a sweep of the CAA's individual awards for 2013, winning the Preseason Player of the Year, end-of-year Player of the Year and Tournament MOP.
Junior Sloane White earned a spot on the All-Tournament team as she tallied 15 kills and 10 digs and hit .306 on championship Sunday. White surpassed 1,000 career kills with her efforts, and has been an All-Tournament performer every season in her CofC career.
Sophomore Melissa Morello played valiantly in the early sets when the Cougars desperately needed kills. Morello earned an All-Tournament nod after finishing with 13 kills and 14 digs, hitting .242.
Senior Emily Neideffer tied her career high with a team-best seven blocks. Cara Howley added eight kills in the win, and libero Andi Zbojniewicz dug up 14 balls.
All-CAA First Teamer and All-Tournament recipient Kelly Bacon played a phenomenal match for the Huskies, trying to go toe-to-toe with the Cougar attack. Bacon had a match-high 20 kills and 16 digs for Northeastern. Jamie Bredahl made plays all over the court with 13 kills and 23 assists, while Natalia Skiba led all players with 19 digs.
Both the first and second sets played similarly with each team struggling to find clean offense but scoring points off of errors. An attack error from Dorton gave NU a 25-24 lead in the first set, but Dorton responded out of a timeout to get a kill to tie things at 25. Two consecutive blocks from Neideffer gave Charleston an emotional 27-25 win in the first set.
The end of the second set was equally dramatic with Charleston securing set point after a block from White and Neideffer. Bacon tied things with a kill, but White gave the Cougars a 26-25 lead. Dorton's serve then proved troublesome for Janelle Tucker and Bacon stepped off the court trying to retrieve the ricochet, giving the Cougars a 27-25 victory.
CofC tied things with Northeastern at 18-18 in the third set, but the Huskies ended the set on a 7-1 run to stay alive and force a fourth set.
With an 18-15 lead in the fourth set, CofC was optimistic just seven points away from a championship. But the Huskies would not go away, rallying to take a 20-19 lead after two aces from Ina Kamenova. Two kills from Dorton, followed by a kill from White and another from Dorton put Charleston up 23-21. Bredahl pulled the margin to 23-22, but White responded with another big swing to set up championship point. NU fought hard and forced a long attack from Morello to postpone the celebration, but on the next point, Dorton gathered a ball from the back row and sent a bullet over the net for the game-winner.
College of Charleston will learn of its seeding in the 2013 NCAA Tournament next Sunday, Dec. 1. ESPNU will air a selection show at 9:30 p.m. with the seedings announced live.