Site: Omaha, Neb. (CHI Health Center)
Score: High Point 3, UCF 2 (22-25, 25-19, 25-21, 23-25, 15-11)
Records: HPU 17-0 (16-0 Big South), UCF 16-2 (8-0 AAC)
Next HPU Event: — Thursday, April 15, 2021 — vs. #7 Purdue, NCAA Tournament Second Round (Omaha, Neb.), 3:30 p.m. ET
OMAHA, Neb. – For the first time in program history, the High Point University volleyball team is advancing to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament after a five-set victory over the University of Central Florida on Wednesday afternoon (April 14).
It’s just the second Division I NCAA Tournament win in HPU Athletics history as the volleyball program joins the women’s lacrosse team from 2017 as the only programs to win an NCAA Tournament contest. Additionally, it’s the first NCAA Tournament victory for any Big South volleyball program. Prior to Wednesday, the Panthers had only taken one set in four NCAA Tournament appearances – winning the first set in the 2017 match against No. 16 Purdue.
“I thought it was a great team effort,” head coach Ryan Meek said after the historic win. “We talked the whole time about how we were going to have to play together and how everyone was going to have to contribute – whether that was physically or emotionally, whether you played or not, whatever the case may be. I think up and down our roster, everybody made those contributions and gave it everything they had, which is what it took to get out of there with a win. I’m proud of the team and what we’ve accomplished this season and I’m looking forward to getting back on the court tomorrow.”
The win improves High Point to 17-0 on the season, extending the winning streak to as many matches and now just two away from matching the program record of 19 consecutive wins during the 2017 season.
HPU matched a pair of season-highs in the contest and set two new ones, matching the season-highs in kills (67) and assists (64) and setting season-highs in blocks (14) and digs (95). It’s just the 11th time the Panthers have totaled 14 or more blocks as a team in the current 25-point era of collegiate volleyball and the 95 digs are tied for the 13th-most in a single match during that same span. High Point attempted 200 attacks for just the 11th time with 200 even in the match and the 67 kills are tied for the 11th-most in a match in program history while the 64 assists are tied for the eighth-most.
Three Panthers totaled double-digit kills for the fifth time this season, led by Annie Sullivan with 17. Close behind her was Madison Smith with 15 and a team-high two service aces while Gabrielle Idlebird had 11 kills in the match and hit .526 and added five blocks – including one solo block.
Kaley Rammelsberg nearly joined the trio in double digits, finishing the match with nine kills. She also added nine blocks – three by herself – for a season-high and became the first Panther to record two different matches of nine blocks or more after matching the program record with 11 blocks a season ago.
Three Panthers also recorded double-digit digs, led once again by Abby Bottomley with 36 – tied for the fifth-most in a five-set match and tied for the sixth-most in any match in program history. Macy Miller was second in digs with a career-high 26 while Maria Miggins also set a career benchmark with 14 digs in the match. Miggins also added 25 assists for her third double-double of the season while Mackenzi Thornburg paced the Panthers with a career-best 33 helpers.
Just as High Point has done all season, it got the job done with its defense, holding UCF to hitting just .157 and committing 31 attacking errors. It’s tied for the most attacking errors the Knights committed in a single match all season and was the third-lowest hitting percentage UCF had in a single match this year and just the fifth time the Knights were held below .200. The Panthers received serve the best that they have all year in the win and were not aced up a single time in 100 attempts – just the second time this year and third time in the last three seasons that HPU has not given up a service ace.
Things looked bleak for the Purple and White at the onset of the match after UCF opened with a 7-1 run and led 8-2. High Point kept fighting and chipping away at the deficit before tying the set for the first time since 0-0 at 18-all when Sullivan drilled home her second kill of the match. HPU tied it up thrice more at 19, 21, and 22 apiece but could never take the lead, dropping the opener 25-22.
High Point flipped the script in the second set and never trailed, allowing the score to be tied just twice in the first 15 points of the frame. The Panthers started with the first two points – one coming from a service ace courtesy of Smith – and led 5-2 after a block from Idlebird and Miggins before UCF tied it up at seven.
That was as close as the Knights got as HPU countered with a 5-1 run to take a four-point lead that only dipped down to one point once more. That occurred at 14-13 and sparked six unanswered points from the Panthers to open a seven-point lead and put the set out of reach. UCF won three in a row with High Point sitting on the doorstep of set point but Smith’s only kill of the set evened the match up at 1-1 with a 25-19 set victory for the Purple and White – the largest margin of victory of any set in the match.
The third set was a battle from the beginning, with both teams siding out at a clip better than 50%. HPU had the edge by 10%, 68-58, and had the first run of the stanza to lead by four, 8-4. The Knights countered with four of their own to tie it back up and after two in a row for the Panthers the teams returned to trading sideouts for the next six points before two more for HPU made it 15-12.
UCF went on its second run of the set after that point, taking six of the next seven to lead 18-16, followed by six more sideouts to make it 21-19. Needing some late magic to take the set, High Point rose to the occasion and took the next six points, with three coming on UCF errors and getting kills from Sullivan, Idlebird, and Smith to take the set 25-21 and lead in the match 2-1. It was only the fourth time UCF had trailed in a match all season and was just the first time the Knights were trailing after three sets.
The fourth set was a set of runs, with the teams trading four-point stretches early that saw UCF lead 7-6. The Knights led 8-7 when High Point went on a 6-2 run to open a three-point lead, with the run ending on back-to-back kills from Sullivan. UCF answered with six straight to take a three-point lead of its own and held the lead until the Purple and White rattled off four in a row to retake the lead, 19-18. The Knights won another six points in a row to get to set point and threaten a fifth set before HPU took the next four to make it 24-23 and sit one point away from extending the frame. The 24th point didn’t come for the Panthers as UCF was able to sideout to take the set and force a decisive fifth set – just the third five-set match for either side.
UCF controlled the fifth set early, leading 4-1 when Meek took a timeout. The timeout seemed to work as the Panthers took three of the next four to pull within one. The momentum shift came two points later when High Point started on a 9-2 run that put the Panthers two points away from victory. The Knights took three of the next four to get to double digits but Sullivan found a seam in the UCF defense to end the match and see the Purple and White through to the second round.
High Point is now up against No. 7-ranked Purdue in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday (April 15) at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Boilermakers and Panthers have met once before, coming in the 2017 NCAA Tournament where Purdue won 3-1 in what was HPU’s only set victory in the NCAA Tournament before defeating UCF on Wednesday.