Buffs clinch spot in AAC finals, national championship


Alyssa Rupert broke the school record for digs in a season and Kellee Geren set career highs in assists and digs as the Milligan College volleyball team punched their ticket to the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament championship and the NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship with an intense five-set win (19-25, 25-23, 27-29, 25-21, 16-14) over Point University (24-12) Friday afternoon.

With the win, the Buffaloes (25-5) advance to face top seed Reinhardt University in the AAC Championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. inside the MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Milligan started strong in the first set jumping out to an early 6-2 lead, but momentum began to shift in favor of Point after a Skyhawks timeout. The Skyhawks scored the next 12 points out of the break and would cruise to a 25-19 win in the first game.

The Buffs would respond in a back-and-forth second set that saw 16 ties and neither team lead by more than three points. With the score tied at 19 all, Milligan would use a 3-0 run behind two Point errors and a Layla Grant ace to create enough breathing room to pull out a 25-23 win.

In the third frame, both teams went toe to toe, trading blows back-and-forth like a heavyweight fight. There were 16 ties in the third, including four in the final moments of the game at 24-all, 25-all, 26-all and 27-all. Milligan held set point three different times, but were unable to finish off the Skyhawks, who eventually won the game 29-27.

Point carried the momentum from their third-set win into the fourth as they opened up a 6-2 lead and seemed poised to close out the match as Milligan called a timeout. Coming out of the break, Milligan showed tremendous fight as they quickly regained momentum with a 12-2 run that included eight straight points.

The Buffs had the Skyhawks on their heels and reeling as they just continued to pound out point after point. Julia Codispoti would put the set away with a kill to send the match to a winner take all game five.

“I told them we’re going to play as hard as we can,” said Head Coach Bays on what she told her team during the initial timeout in the fourth. “If we win, hallelujah, and if we lose, hallelujah, because there is going to be no regrets as we walk out of here, because we know we left everything out there. I said you’re not going to look at the scoreboard, you’re going to look at each other and you’re going to play for one another and that’s what got them through.”

At the changeover in the fifth set, Point led 8-6 thanks to a 4-0 run, but the Buffs would come back with the next two points courtesy of Codispoti kills to even things up once again. The Skyhawks were able to stave off two Milligan set points trailing 14-12 and 14-13, but were unable to survive the last one.

After an Alyssa Gibson kill, Julie Dockery served up an ace to give Milligan the 16-14 set win and send them to the AAC finals.

Overall there were 47 ties in the five-sets, and each team’s largest lead was eight.

Geren orchestrated the Buffs offensive attack with a career-high 59 assists and also racked up a career-high 21 digs en route to her 16th double-double of the season.

Four Milligan hitters recorded double digit kills led by freshman Elise Gregory who drove home 18 kills and scooped up 14 digs for her 10th double-double. Codispoti followed with a career-high 15 on 28 attempts to go along with three errors for a team-high .429 hitting percentage.

Juniors Dockery and Gibson finished off 14 and 13 kills respectively to help lead the offense. Dockery also tallied four blocks for the match.

On the backrow, the AAC Libero of the Year, Rupert, dug out a match-high 28 attacks, while Layla Grant chipped in 11. The 28 digs from Rupert moved her season total to 756 which surpassed the previous school record of 753 set in 2010 by Morgan Rutledge.

Since Reinhardt was the regular season champions and advanced to the AAC championship game, Milligan has clinched the conference’s second spot in the NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship. The berth is the Buffs’ first since 1996 when Coach Bays played at Milligan.

“We haven’t been to the national tournament since my senior year,” said Coach Bays, “so that’s been a goal of mine for 11 years now. Every year, part of our team’s goal is to win a conference championship and go to nationals. For us to be going, it’s a huge breakthrough for our program, because we’ve been very close. I’m excited that we get that next opportunity tomorrow and at least one more opportunity, and we’re grateful for that.”

Milligan faces off against Reinhardt for the AAC championship Saturday at 2 p.m. at the MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center in Kingsport. The Buff fell to the Eagles during the regular season in straight sets inside Steve Lacy Fieldhouse.

“I’m excited to have a second chance at Reinhardt,” said Coach Bays. “We’re not playing the same now as we were when we saw them at our place. We’re hoping to make it a battle and we’re going to fight for a conference tournament championship.”

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