The Pioneer women's volleyball team captured the program's first ever Northeast Conference regular season championship with a 3-0 victory over Long Island Sunday afternoon at the William H. Pitt Center. Sacred Heart improves to 14-0 at home in 2010 and will host the NEC tournament next weekend as the #1 seed. Freshmen Christina Bauch (Trabuco Canyon, CA) and Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) both posted a double-double as the Pioneers swung at a .310 clip for the afternoon. Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek (Santa Barbara, CA), who entered the match eighth in the NCAA with 11.78 assists per set, recorded a match-high 45 helpers.
Sacred Heart (27-6, 14-2 NEC) jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead in the opening set behind a kill from Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO). Sage dominated the first set tallying seven kills on eight attempts, a .875 hitting percentage. The sophomore middle player finished the afternoon with 10 kills and a .529 hitting clip. Sacred Heart posted a 20 kills in the opening set and made just three attack errors to hit a match-high .459. The Blackbirds would fight back into the set and even it at 13-13 on a SHU service error. But the Pioneers would win 12 of the last 15 points, including eight straight on the serve of Mercado, to put away the first frame 25-16 and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Long Island (10-20, 9-7 NEC) was led in the second set by five of Hanna Gibeau's team-high 11 kills. However, the Blackbirds were held to a .125 hitting mark in the second stanza and managed just 10 kills. LIU took an early 4-2 lead in the set but Sacred Heart used a 9-3 spurt to regain control at 11-7. Mercado put down six of her 17 kills in the set as well as five of her total 15 digs. The Pioneers would hold the Blackbirds at bay the rest of the set and Sage gave SHU a 2-0 advantage in the match with a kill at 25-21 to take the final point.
The Pioneers again cruised out to an early cushion, taking advantage of back-to-back LIU attack errors to push the lead to 11-6. The Blackbirds rallied for the next four points and closed the gap to 11-10 on a kill from Breanna Cullity. The Pioneers used a 7-3 surge, capped off by a Bauch kill, to extend the advantage back to a comfortable 18-13 margin. Bauch finished the match with 12 kills and 11 digs while libero Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) had 14 digs on the backline. A Mercado kill gave the Pioneers a match point as the Pioneer faithful rose to its feet anticipating the point that would give Sacred Heart the NEC regular season crown. Two plays later Ashlyn Trimble (Temeucla, CA) delivered that moment as the Pioneers took the set 25-18 to win the match and the program's first regular season title.
Sacred Heart will take on the four seed Central Connecticut State in the NEC semifinals this Saturday in the William H. Pitt Center. The top-seeded Pioneers will now look for a Northeast Conference tournament championship and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.