Gold Nuggets win a conference tournament championship, automatic bid to NAIA nationals for 13th consecutive season
NEW ORLEANS — Second-seeded Xavier University of Louisiana rallied Saturday afternoon for a 17-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-23, 19-17 women’s volleyball victory against top-seeded Our Lady of the Lake in the championship match of the Red River Athletic Conference Tournament.
For the 13th consecutive season the Gold Nuggets (19-7) won a conference tournament and an automatic bid to NAIA nationals.
For the second straight year, XULA climbed out of a huge fifth-set hole against OLLU. This time the Gold Nuggets trailed 13-8 and saved two match points before clinching the title on an attack error by the Saints’ Madalyn Gonzalez.
“I was very, very nervous,” said senior outside hitter Kennedy Wade, a third-team NAIA All-American in 2022, of XULA’s perilous approach toward defeat. “But we also trust each other. We knew we could make plays. I’m proud of what we did to come back and win.”
Wade scored three of the next five points — including a serve that hit the tape and dropped in front of OLLU defenders for an ace — to tie the set at 13. Sydney Murray saved an OLLU match point when her kill tied it at 14, and the Saints missed on their other match point when Mia Dorsey served wide of the court at 17-16.
Wade’s kill gave XULA an 18-17 lead, then Gonzalez’s error ended the two-hour, 22-minute thriller.
Taylor Parker, a 6-foot-2 XULA freshman, was chosen tournament MVP after hitting .455 against OLLU with 18 kills, a career high, and six blocks. Teammates Ruxandra Flueras and Wade joined Parker on the seven-member all-tournament team.
“I got a lot of support and love yesterday, and it really impacted me today,” Parker said. “I was ballin’ out there. My slide hitting was the best it’s ever been.”
In the final Flueras produced 30 digs, two aces and four assists, and Wade had 16 kills, 26 digs, an ace and two blocks.
Also contributing for XULA were Murray with 10 kills, two aces, a block and eight digs, Bengisu Kazazlar with two kills, four blocks, 14 digs and 51 assists, Stella Dineva with 16 kills, an ace and three blocks, Charity Metcalf with eight digs, and Kendall Mack with six blocks and two kills.
XULA had a 60-42 lead in total errors but compensated with advantages of 64-51 in kills and 93-78 in digs. OLLU outhit XULA .137 to .127.
A year ago in the RRAC Tournament final at XULA, the Gold Nuggets rallied from a 13-9 deficit in the fifth — OLLU never reached match point — and won 16-14. XULA is 3-0 in RRAC Tournament finals, all against the Saints. XULA won 10 consecutive Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournaments from 2011-20.
Also earning all-tournament were OLLU’s Dorsey and Gonzalez, Leah Stamps of Louisiana Christian and Katherine Toftemark of Texas A&M-Texarkana. In the final Dorsey had 17 kills, four blocks and nine digs, and Gonzalez had four kills and five blocks.
The previous week OLLU won twice at home against XULA to clinch the RRAC regular-season championship by a match over the Gold Nuggets.
Xavier University of Louisiana’s women’s volleyball will play Eastern Oregon at 1 p.m. PST Saturday in La Grande, Ore., in the opening round of the NAIA National Championship tournament.
The NAIA announced Monday the qualifiers and pairings of the 48-team tournament.
XULA or EOU will advance with 23 other first-round winners to the NAIA’s final site in Sioux City, Iowa, for pool play beginning Nov. 29. Eastern Oregon (30-1) was third in the final NAIA coaches poll. The Mountaineers received an automatic bid by winning 25-17, 25-21, 18-25, 25-20 at home Saturday against seventh-ranked Corban in the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament final.
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