Davidson, N.C. –Trailing two sets to none, Furman, the third-seeded team in the South Division, rallied back to defeat the No.1 seed in the South, Georgia Southern, 3-2 (15-25, 13-25, 25-22, 29-27, 15-8). The Paladins used huge performances from seniors Chandler Ambrester (24 kills, 13 digs) and Natalie Braun (16 kills, 18 digs) to claim a spot in Monday's championship match.
Furman (24-9, 10-6 SoCon) had three players with double-digit kills: Ambrester, Braun and junior Christina Dorismond (15 kills). Libero Elle Ross added 28 digs, while setter Jo Wilks dished out 57 assists. The Paladins hit .211 as a team, including .450 in set five, after hitting just .021 in the first set of the match.
"I decided I was going to do whatever I had to do to keep this team out on the court today," said Braun after the victory. "We talked a lot about getting revenge coming into this tournament, after losing to Elon and Georgia Southern in the regular season. Georgia Southern dominated us in both regular season matches, but we finally got rolling in the third set today. This was a great, great team win. The four seniors on our team have been through a lot, so this win means the world to us. I am really excited to see how we fight back and push tomorrow as we look for revenge against another team."
The Eagles (25-7, 15-1 SoCon) were led offensively by Kym Coley and Meredith Paskert, who each tallied 17 kills. Libero Alex Beecher added 31 digs and setter Kate Van Dyke dished out 52 assists.
Fueled by the offense of Paskert, Georgia Southern used an early run to jump out to a 10-4 lead over the Paladins. The teams then traded points before Georgia Southern forced a Furman timeout, leading 19-12. After the timeout, the Eagles then used a 6-2 run to close out the set, 25-15. Georgia Southern out-hit the Paladins .314-.021 in the set, and out-blocked Furman, 7-1.
Set two saw Georgia Southern capitalize on some Furman errors early and take a 7-3 lead. Later in the match, sparked by a kill from Curry, the Eagles rattled off six-consecutive points to take a 19-9 lead and eventually take the set, 25-13. Coley recorded a team-high four kills in the set, while the Eagles again held the Paladins to a below-.100 hitting percentage at .077.
Set three was much more competitive early. Georgia Southern build an 11-7 lead using Furman errors and a block by Coley, before the Paladins stormed back to take a 13-12 lead thanks to three kills by Dorismond. The teams then traded points before Georgia Southern used a Bellissimo ace to take a 20-18 lead. Furman then used kills by Braun and Dorismond to go on a 5-2 run to take the set from the Eagles. Furman hit .304 in the set and held Georgia Southern to a .195 hitting percentage.
Furman used solid hitting from Ambrester to take the early lead, 8-5 in set four. The teams then traded points before Furman took a 19-17 lead and forced a Georgia Southern timeout after a Braun ace. The teams then traded points until Furman took the set, 29-27, to force a fifth set. The Paladins hit .319 in the set, recorded 19 kills, while the Eagles hit .216, recording 18 kills.
In the decisive fifth set, Furman used kills from Adams and Ambrester to take and early 5-1 lead, forcing a Georgia Southern timeout. The Eagles used two kills from Paskert to cut the Paladins' lead to 5-3, but Furman used two kills from Ambrester and an ace from Wilks to take an 8-4 lead at the switch. The Paladins then used kills from Dorsimond and Braun to take the set, 15-8, and the match, 3-2.
"It was exciting to see our girls come back in this match," said Furman head coach Michelle Young following the win. "I expected us to come out much sharper in the first two sets, but we regrouped and began to turn the momentum. This was a really emotional win because Georgia Southern had their way with us during the regular season. This was a huge hurdle for us, but we need to play like we are on a mission much earlier in tomorrow night's match to be successful."
The Paladins will College of Charleston in tomorrow's 6:00 p.m. championship match, which can be seen on ESPN3.