By Jeff Batt | firstname.lastname@example.org
Flagler College volleyball has achieved its first goal of the season — winning its fourth Peach Belt Conference title this past Saturday. But it will be a quick celebration through campus as the team looks to continue a great season with a long run through the Southeast Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
After receiving the second seed last week going into Peach Belt tournament, Flagler had a great win against Augusta University, which put them in a semifinal matchup against longtime rival Armstrong State University. The Saints cruised to a 3-1 victory in their rematch and moved onto a pivotal championship matchup against the No. 1-seeded University South Carolina Aiken Pacers.
The Saints had just played the Pacers the week before in St. Augustine where they came out with a 3-2 win in what many called one of the most intense games of the year. Tara Savisky, a freshman setter who has filled in a big role this season, felt the Saints went into the match with familiarity of the team’s skills and weaknesses.
“I think playing them a week before really gave us an advantage and confidence since we knew the team so well and each individual player,” she said. “We knew our game plan and all that mattered was how we took care of things on our side of the net.”
Before the game, Savisky was selected as the Peach Belt Conference’s co-Freshman of the year, as well as co-Setter of the year at the Peach Belt Conference banquet. Sara Davis and Megan Hooks also received All-Conference awards for their season-long achievements.
“I am very honored and appreciative, but those awards would have never been possible without my passers and my hitters,” Savisky said.
USC Aiken was fortunate enough to host the tournament giving them the edge, but Flagler came out strong from the get-go as they won the first set with power, 25-14. The second set was tighter, but Flagler persevered again with a 25-20 win. The third set was a nail-biter as Flagler went back and forth before the Saints prevailed in the end 26-24, and swept the Pacers 3-0. With the win, Flagler moved to 23-7 on the season. For USC Aiken, Sunday’s loss was only the second this year for the Pacers at home as they entered with an 18-1 record at home. They finished the season 27-5.
The Saints have been fortunate to have depth all season and that continued in this championship match. Taja Valmyr recorded a match-high 15 kills and hit .375 to earn tournament MVP honors. Megan Hooks also came in with force, adding 10 kills and a block, as well as Sara Davis and Jenea Redick, who each had 7 kills to contribute to the dominating performance.
The team has four seniors who are all eager after coming up just short last year. They see themselves in the driver’s seat to push further. One of those seniors, Ashley Lechleidner-Rodriguez, thinks this weekend was huge, but is only the beginning.
“Winning the championship in my last year is just such a special feeling, especially after coming up just short last year and now winning it all this year and in a sweep, there is nothing better than that,” she said. “We are all so ready to move on to regionals and continue to show everyone what Flagler volleyball is all about. We have grown so much as a team and our hard work has paid off so far. We know for a fact we have the talent to take us all the way to nationals.”
Now the Saints know their fate for the Southeast Regional. Shockingly, they didn’t receive the No. 1 seed, and host of the Southeast Regional goes to USC Aiken, even though the Saints defeated them twice in the past 10 days. Flagler will be the No. 2 seed, taking on Lenoir Rhyne University on Dec. 4 in Aiken, South Carolina.