GAINESVILLE, Fla. – College of Charleston rallied back from deficits all afternoon and eventually pulled away in the fifth set to defeat No. 23 Miami (Fla.), 3-2 (25-22, 21-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-10), in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Gainesville, Fla.
The win was the first for the College of Charleston (27-7) in the NCAA Tournament since 2005 when CofC defeated North Carolina. The thrilling victory was also the first program win over a ranked opponent as the 23rd-ranked Hurricanes finished second in the ACC.
The Cougars rallied from down five points in the first set and four points in the fourth set to come back and win both frames. CofC also trailed 2-0 in the fifth set before coming back to win 15-10.
"I knew that this team had the toughness and resolve to battle after we advanced through the difficult SoCon Tournament," head coach Jason Kepner said after his first career NCAA Tournament victory. "Everyone believed in each other and the team continued to pick each other up. Miami is a great opponent and we rose to the challenge tonight. I couldn't be more proud of this team."
Junior Darcy Dorton led College of Charleston with a career-high 27 kills on 71 attack attempts. Her previous NCAA Tournament best was 13 which she made in the 2009 national championship match while playing for Penn State. She also tallied 17 digs for her 17th double-double of the season. Dorton's 27 kills put her at 525 kills on the season which is the school record in the rally scoring era (since 2001).
Sophomore Sloane White, the SoCon Tournament MVP, finished with 17 kills and a .441 hitting percentage as she only committed two errors. White made the match-winning kill on an identical play to her match point that won the SoCon Tournament in the fifth set.
Unfazed by the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament stage, freshman Melissa Morello notched 11 kills and 10 digs for a double-double. Junior setter Taeler Davis notched 56 assists and 12 digs for her 11th double-double of the season.
Middle blockers Emily Neideffer and Kerstin Koehler came up with big blocks and kills in the fifth set to help push CofC over the edge. Neideffer finished with seven kills and two blocks, while Koehler had six kills and two blocks.
Senior Emily Shelton, playing in potentially her last match as a Cougar, stepped up for 18 digs. Andi Zbojniewicz tallied six digs and three assists.
The Hurricanes were led by Taylor Hollins (17 kills, 12 digs) and Savanah Leaf (13 kills, 18 digs) who led the Miami attack while also keeping a number of balls alive on the back end. Libero Ryan Shaffer led the team with 21 digs.
Miami jumped out to a 5-0 lead to begin the match, but CofC responded with a 4-0 run on the serve of Davis to tie the set at seven-all. Two straight UM attack errors and a block from Morello and Koehler gave CofC a 10-8 lead and some excitement in the first set. Miami used a 4-0 run on both sides of the media timeout to go up 17-13. However, the Cougars rallied back yet again and took a 22-21 lead on a slide from White. Leaf would tie the set at 22, but that was the closest that Miami got as White tallied another big kill and Emani Sims hit the ball wide to give CofC the set victory, 25-22.
The Hurricanes jumped out to another lead in the second set at 3-0, but the Cougars were quicker to recover this time and tied the score at four after White and Dorton kills. Both teams traded big runs with CofC rallying from down 8-4 to take a 10-9 lead after a block and kill from Neideffer. Kills from Dorton put the Cougars up 15-13, but Miami scored five of the next six points to lead 18-16. The teams battled to a 20-20 tie, but Miami scored the next two points to take the lead for good, eventually winning the set, 25-21.
Miami hit nearly .300 in the third set, as the Hurricanes continued to get the offensive errors under control from the first set. CofC made several runs but Miami never trailed after building a 7-4 lead early in the set. The Cougars rallied to an 19-17 deficit and nearly pulled to within one but a Shaffer pancake dig kept a rally alive and eventually Miami went up 20-17. College of Charleston could not rally a final time and the Hurricanes won the set, 25-19.
College of Charleston fell behind 9-5 in the fourth set, but rallied to tie the set at 12 after kills from Morello and White. Both teams traded points throughout the middle of the set until kills from White and Koehler sandwiched a Miami error to put CofC up 21-19. Two more CofC kills after a Miami timeout made the score 23-19 and two kills from White ended the fourth set in CofC's favor, 25-22.
CofC entered the fifth set confident knowing that the Cougars had endured the pressure of do-or-die in the Southern Conference title match's fifth set. Although Miami went up 2-0, College of Charleston quickly responded to tie the set at 4-4. A Miami error and a Dorton kill gave the Cougars a slight 8-7 edge at the turn. The Cougars then ramped up the pressure and ran away from Miami after the media timeout. Two kills from Dorton and a block from Dorton and Neideffer gave CofC an 11-8 lead. A kill from Koehler was followed by a service ace from Davis that hit the back line and excited the then-partisan crowd of the O'Connell Center. A block from White and Koehler gave CofC match point, and, after a Miami point, the Cougars reached it with the same slide to White that won the SoCon Tournament championship point.
College of Charleston will continue in the NCAA Tournament's second round on Saturday night with a 7:30 p.m. match between either Tulsa or the host Florida Gators.