SLU wins three straight sets to oust top seeded HCU for Southland Conference Crown

Lady+Lions+celebrate+on+the+court+at+the+UC+after+winning+the+first+Southland+Conference+Title+in+school+history.+%28Nov.+20%2C+2022%29

Symiah Dorsey

Lady Lions celebrate on the court at the UC after winning the first Southland Conference Title in school history. (Nov. 20, 2022)

Southeastern defeated Houston Christian 3-1 (16-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-16) in the championship game of the Southland Conference Volleyball Tournament on Sunday afternoon at the University Center, claiming its first Southland Conference Title in school history.

The Lady Lions split both matchups vs. the Lady Huskies during the regular season, as each home team swept the away side 3-0. 

HCU was the number one seed for the tournament, going a conference-best 14-4 in Southland play (23-10 overall), while their counterpart SLU finished second at 13-5 (25-7 overall). 

Only the top two seeds out of eight teams that made the tournament received a double bye and both used that advantage to advance through to the final. 

Houston Christian and Southeastern both won 3-1 over #5 seed Northwestern State and #3 seed McNeese respectively in the semifinals setting up a collision course between the best two teams of the regular season. 

After trading the opening four points evenly at two apiece, the Lady Huskies raced to an 11-2 advantage, taking nine straight points to silence the restless home crowd.

The hole dug by the Lady Lions proved too steep and HCU won the first set 25-16, the same margin originally created by the unanswered scoring run. 

“We just had to remember what we were playing for. We’re trying to play for a bigger purpose than just the trophy and we just had to get back to what we do and execute our typical habits,” said Head Coach Jeremy White reflecting on the message relayed to his team after dropping the first set. 

SLU came out with a sense of urgency in set number two, taking eight of the first 10 points for a six point edge. Houston Christian clawed their way back into it however and knotted the game at 14. 

Then, graduate opposite hitter Karlee Wilkerson’s kill sparked a 5-0 Lady Lion ambush. Senior setter Ariana Hebert followed suit, rattling off three straight service aces before assisting senior middle blocker Crispin Adams’ kill to make it 19-14 in favor of Southeastern. 

The Lady Huskies fought back to get within a couple on two separate occasions, but ultimately fell 25-20 and the match was tied 1-1.

HCU jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the third set but SLU held firm and managed to get within striking distance late, trailing 20-18. 

That’s when Wilkerson delivered with another timely kill that once again ignited the Lady Lions who never looked back from that moment on, rallying for seven straight points to take a commanding 2-1 set lead.

Junior outside hitter Kailin Newsome punctuated the period with back to back kills to finish off the Lady Huskies. 

With a 2-1 lead and a lively UC behind them, Southeastern exploded out of the blocks to an 11-3 advantage. 

Down 23-11 and on the verge of elimination, Houston Christian tallied off five straight points to cut the Lady Lion lead to single digits, 23-16. 

SLU Head Coach Jeremy White called a timeout when HCU made it 23-15 and it seemed to calm the nerves of his squad.

White’s team gave up one more point before sophomore outside hitter Cicily Hidalgo’s kill put Southeastern on the verge of glory. 

Libero/defensive specialist Ansley Tullis’ serve resulted in a Lady Huskies attacking error to end the match, putting a Green and Gold wrapping on the campaign while preserving a flawless home record of 14-0 for the season. 

“We squeezed out the second set but midway through the third we flipped a switch and got back to being us leaving everything on the floor. I’m proud of them,” said coach White postgame.

The Texas native went on to talk about the positive shift he’s seen within the building since the day he took over.

“It’s night and day. The culture’s different. The attitude of the athletes is different. The work ethic is different. The care for each other is different. That’s what has really carried our success this year is when we play for each other. Hats off to our kids for turning the program around. I’m the guy in charge but I’m not the one that truly makes it happen.” 

White took over a team that went 2-27 in 2018 and has built them into champions in year four. 

White also coaches beach volleyball on top of being in charge of the indoor team.

The 2022 Lady Lions will go down in SLU volleyball lore as Southland Conference Tournament Champions and have punched their first ever ticket to the NCAA Tournament. 

Where they will travel to will be determined Sunday, Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. when the field is announced on ESPNU. 

Hidalgo and Tulis were named to the SLC All-Tournament Team while Newsome took home MVP. All three played a huge role in the final.

Hidalgo paced SLU in digs (19) along with producing 16 kills and a trio of blocks. Tulis chipped in with 17 digs, five assists and an ace. Newsome led the Lady Lions in kills (18) as well as adding 11 digs and an ace of her own.

“It means the world. Especially for Southeastern… It’s our first time ever winning it and It’s so exciting to be the team that does it… very rewarding,” said Newsome when discussing what it means to be first time champions for the program and university.