ST. AUGUSTINE’S CAPTURES CIAA VOLLEYBALL TITLE WITH THRILLING COMEBACK
Lady Falcons win program’s 19th championship after facing match point in 3-2 win
November 6, 2011
HAMPTON, Va. – They faced match point. And it never fazed them.
The St. Augustine’s Lady Falcons, who only reached the CIAA Volleyball Tournament semifinals by virtue of a tiebreaker, completed their Cinderella run through the tournament by knocking off the league’s mightiest program, the two-time defending CIAA champion Chowan Hawks, 3-2 in thrilling fashion in the league championship on Saturday at the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton, Va.
It is the program’s 19th CIAA championship and its first since 2003. But it may be the team’s most unlikely title. The Lady Falcons entered the tournament just 13-15 and needed a rocket ride through the tournament just to even think about the NCAA playoffs.
Now they are there.
2011 CIAA Volleyball Champions
St. Augustine’s won the match despite losing the first two sets, prevailing by the scores of 20-25, 21-25, 26-24, 25-23 and 17-15.
“We’ve been fighting all year, trying to get over the hump,” said St. Augustine’s coach Nikki Bynum. “We stayed together as a family and worked hard. That’s how you get moments like this.”
But it was another moment, trailing 24-23 in the third set, that set the stage for the Lady Falcons’ dramatic rebirth.
“I was just praying to God, ‘Ladies, let’s just get one point. One more point,’” said Kathryn Tokarski, who was named as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “One point. One point at a time and we can do this.”
St. Augustine’s got that point, and then another, and then one more, extending the match to a fourth set that no one – outside of perhaps the Lady Falcons – saw coming.
Neither team built more than a three-point the rest of the match. The lead changed hands five times and the teams tied 15 times in the fourth set, a steady match of equal parts attrition and brilliant play. The Lady Falcons trailed by two three times in the waning points – 19-17, 21-19, 23-21 – before closing on a 4-0 spurt to keep the match – and their season – alive.
The fifth set mirrored the others, though St. Augustine’s built an early advantage with a 10-7 lead. This time the two-time defending champions showed their mettle, rallying to tie the game at 10. With tension building with each point, the teams traded service breaks until St. Augustine’s reached its first match point at 14-13.
Still, Chowan (26-8), which finished the CIAA regular season unbeaten before losing two of its last three matches at the tournament, came back, fighting off two match points of their own until Keisha Parris sent home her 20th kill – and the Lady Falcons’ 58th – to claim the league championship at 17-15.
“We were just determined,” said Parris, who was named to the All-Tournament team along with Tokarski, Victoria Davis and Roxanne Smith. “We never got down. It was always about just playing the next point.”
Parris led the Falcons’ offensive attack, adding 13 digs and five assists. Tokarski had 15 kills to go with a team-high 18 digs as five Lady Falcons’ players recorded 10 or more digs to fight off the Hawks’ relentless offensive attack. Smith led St. Augustine’s with 46 assists while Brittany Hicks added 13 kills.
But it was Tokarski and Parris who seemed to come up with every important point – and there were several of them.
“It’s been like that the whole season,” said Bynum. “They’re our 1-2 punch. You defend one, the other is coming right after her. They attack, they dig, they serve – they’re irreplaceable.”
And they have long memories.
“We lost to Chowan in the finals last year, and we just couldn’t go through that again,” said Tokarski, her eyes wet with tears of joy and satisfaction. “It was anyone’s game, and I think this time we just wanted it more than them.”
Chowan head coach Peter Green said the Hawks failed to capitalize on their greatest opportunities.
“We allowed St. Aug’s to get momentum, and that’s when they become a very dangerous team,” Green said.
Monica Ruffin led the Hawks with 17 kills while CIAA Player of the year Tori Lewis added 15 kills and a match-high 25 digs. Karina Monroe added 14 kills while Callie Armistead had a tournament-high 62 kills, six away from the Chowan school record. Tara Thomalla added 21 digs for the Hawks, who struggled with 13 service errors.
While Chowan awaits its fate, St. Augustine’s knows its season will go on.
“It’s been an emotional season, and there have been a lot of ups and downs,” said Parris. “We’ve been through so much, but we came together at the right time. Everybody became a single unit.”
St. Aug's Parris, Tokarski, Smith and Victoria Davis and Chowan’s Lewis, Monroe and Ruffin were each named to the All-Tournament team, which was rounded out with Kiara Brown (Winston-Salem State) and Joi Emanuel (Fayetteville State).