KINGSPORT, Tenn. (Nov. 13, 2015) – Emilee Linkous and Samantha Bruinius earned a match-high 11 kills apiece to lead the Milligan College volleyball team past top-seeded Bryan College and into the finals of the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament Friday at the MeadowView Marriott. Milligan was victorious in three sets, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19.
The Buffaloes (20-14, 13-7 AAC) will face the winner of the other semifinal, second-seeded Union or third-seeded St. Andrews, in the championship match scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. The conference tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship.
Milligan defeated Bryan (25-14, 18-2 AAC) in straight sets and controlled each one most of the way through, but it still took grit and determination to do what only two other league teams had done this season. And the Buffs did it by coming up big on some of the biggest points.
The Buffs led the first set 22-20 before closing it out with three straight points: a Linkous kill, a Bruinius kill and a Linkous service ace. Milligan earned 16 kills as a team in the opening set and committed only five errors for a .268 attack rate. Part of the success in the opening frame came by way of a strong start as the Buffs used an 8-3 run beginning at 5-5 to create some separation.
Savannah Benton started things off in the second set in a positive way, starting the set in exactly the same way Linkous finished the first, with a service ace. The Buffs proceeded to go on another run similar to the first set, winning five straight to go ahead 9-4. Bruinius had back-to-back-to-back kills during that stretch, the last of which came on one of the longest points of the match.
At the end of the second set, it was again Linkous who finished it off. After a Charlie Bateman kill made it 22-20 and Jenna Headrick painted the end line with a kill on the next point to make it 23-20, Linkous closed out the set two points later with another kill.
Fittingly enough, Milligan closed out the third set by winning the clutch points as well. With the scored tied 16-16 in what proved to be the final game, Bruinius smacked down her final kill of the match from the left side to put an end to a 4-0 Bryan run. Jessica Davenport‘s kill two points later, which gave the Buffs the lead for good, started an 8-2 run Milligan used to close the final door on Bryan.
Davenport, this year’s AAC Setter of the Year, finished with 29 assists, six digs and two service aces. Outside of Linkous and Bruinius, Davenport favored Jenna Headrick for seven kills and only one error on 15 attempts (.400).
One of Headrick’s biggest kills tied the match at 9-9 in the third set during a 5-0 Milligan run to take a lead it would not relinquish. She also earned a block with Linkous at the end of the same run, and the pair earned the final block on the next-to-last point of the match, giving Milligan a 24-19 lead. One point later, the Buffs were celebrating their trip to the championship final.
Milligan will play either second-seeded Union or third-seeded St. Andrews in Saturday’s championship match, scheduled for 2 p.m. at the MeadowView Marriott in Kingsport. The winner of the AAC final will punch a ticket to the NAIA National Championship, beginning with the opening round on Nov. 21 at campus sites and followed Dec. 1-5 in Sioux City, Iowa.