College of Coastal Georgia’s second volleyball conference championship in a row was a little sweeter for the Lady Mariners because of who they beat to win it.
After dropping just one conference match during the regular season to the University of Mobile, the Lady Mariners met the Rams again on Saturday in Montgomery, Ala., in the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament championship and beat them 3-1.
“Winning back to back was hard,” said Coastal Georgia coach Jeff Huebner. “Teams played lights out against us all year, and after 21 matches, we only ended up dropping five sets in conference.”
The Rams stole the first set from the Mariners on Saturday, 25-20, but the Mariners bounced back to win the next three en route to its second conference championship, 25-18, 25-17, 25-19.
The win puts the No. 21 ranked Mariners at 30-3 for the season and earned them an automatic berth to the NAIA national championship for the second year in a row.
They won the regular season conference championship as well.
“Our team preparation was critical in our wins, and the kids have a great ability to make adjustments after the first suggestion which proved to be the reason we were able to be so tough all year,” Huebner said on Saturday. “It was 100 percent the reason why we were able to respond and play so well today against Mobile after dropping the first set.”
The first set against the Rams (32-6) was the only set the Mariners lost in the five matches it played in the conference tournament. Coastal Georgia swept pool play then defeated Dalton State in the semifinals to set up the rematch of last year’s tournament final with the Rams.
With how well the Mariners played, they now are hopeful to get a high enough seed to get a home game in the national tournament. That information will be released today by the NAIA. If the Mariners do get a home match, they will play it at 7 p.m. Saturday on campus at Howard Coffin Gym in Brunswick.
“This weekend we looked like a top-15 team,” Huebner said. “We were rested going into the finals and that’s a tribute to the players who came off the bench and played well. Our coaching staff was also awesome this weekend, scouting every point of every match, staying in the gym between matches and making some key adjustments in matches to win games.”
That showed in Coastal’s ability to bounce back from a rare first-set loss against Mobile in which there were five lead changes.
“We talked about how we were going to change our block and defensive positioning versus the right side, and some of our defensive responsibilities,” Huebner said. “We also felt like Mobile had every close call, awkward bounce and strange play which we knew couldn’t hold. From there Alyssa Keeve and Kara Neisen just dominated serve receive and we followed suit to finish well.”
The Mariners finished with 59 kills and 19 errors in 134 attacks to hit .299 in the match. Emma Anderson led the team with 15 kills and was followed by Allie Shannon with 14 and Regan Coughlin with 13.
Setter Cayley Meiners was voted the tournament MVP after dishing out 48 assists. She made the all-tournament team along with Anderson and Shannon.
Defensively the Mariners were stout in the championship match, holding the Rams to .144 hitting. Neisen notched 19 digs and was followed by Anderson and Keeve with 15 each and Meiners with 11.
The team scored 11 points on blocks and finished with 14 assisted blocks and four solo.
The performances were what Huebner has seen all season from his squad.
“I’m so proud of how this group has battled through everything — tough losses at Mobile and Georgia College and State, illnesses and injuries,” Huebner said. “They meet every challenge face-first and respond so well to adversity. This is certainly a group that has the ability to make a deep run in the national tournament.”