Brooklyn, NY – The SHU women's volleyball team claimed the 2011 Northeast Conference Championship with a dramatic 3-1 victory over Long Island in Sunday's title match. Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) posted a match high 17 kills and was named the tournament MVP. Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) blasted 16 kills and also secured a spot on the all-tournament team. The victory garners the Pioneers the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.
Long Island (21-13) got off to a fast start and recorded the first four points of the match. However, the Pioneers rallied to knot the set at 4-4 on a spurt that included a pair of kills from Christina Bauch (Trabuco Canyon, CA). SHU rattled off three straight points on kills from Sage, Roleder, and Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico). The Pioneers opened up an 18-13 lead as Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario) added one of her 12 kills. Sage sealed the first set down the stretch with a kill to make it 24-22 and another to end the set, 25-23, in favor of SHU.
Sacred Heart (27-7) erased an early LIU lead in the second set and pulled ahead, 8-7, on a Mercado tip-kill. The Blackbirds called for timeout and the momentum eventually leveled out as the two teams found themselves square at 14-14. However, Long Island would run away with the set late, earning 11 of the last 14 points tocome away with the 25-17 triumph and knot the match at 1-1. NEC Player of the Year Hannah Gibeau paced the Blackbirds in the championship match with 16 kills and 10 digs.
The third set was back-and-forth throughout as the two sides traded runs. The Pioneers were up 22-20 after a Sage kill and a Blackbird ball handling error. However, LIU would recover and a block would make it 23-23, triggering a timeout from SHU head coach Rob Machan. Ovsenek and Roleder would both hammer kills to supply a set point but each time a Pioneer error kept the Blackbirds alive. SHU got its third set point after a Long Island hitting error. Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA), the NEC Libero of the Year, dropped in a service ace to end the set, 27-25 and move SHU within one set of the championship. Colberg recorded a match high dig total for the second straight contest, notching 17 in the title tilt.
The Pioneers built an early lead in the fourth set as Ovsenek and Alisa Mesa (Long Beach, CA) combined for a block. Mesa dished out 46 assists as the Pioneers swung at a .215 clip for the match. Sacred Heart extended its lead to five at 19-14 as Mercado ran around the net to keep a rally alive, which eventually set up a Sage kill. Mercado registered championship point as she rocketed a ball off of the LIU block and out of bounds to end the set, 25-15, and begin the Pioneers celebration of a second straight NEC crown.
Machan was obviously pleased with the final result and commented after the match, "Long Island was phenomenal tonight. Our girls worked the whole way through, they earned it. I'm very, very proud of them."
Sacred Heart will now head to its second NCAA Tournament after providing a stiff test to #3 Nebraska last season. The Pioneers first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament will be revealed next Sunday at 6:00 pm during the NCAA selection show on ESPNU.