Cougars step up, win Classic championship

Sloan White (17) and Kerstin Koehler (14) go up for a block against the Slovenian Junior National Team at TD Arena on Saturday (Photo by Chopper Johnson)

When the Memphis Tigers rushed to a 5-0 start in the Saturday evening match, it looked like the College of Charleston’s volleyball team might be going home disappointed for the second weekend in a row.

Charleston’s new lineup looked stunned but tightened up and came back to crush the competition, in a 3-1 victory to secure the Courtyard Charleston North Classic tournament title.

The team that came out on Saturday to defeat both Memphis and the Slovenian Junior National Team was significantly more aggressive than the one that slumped to a five-set defeat against North Florida on Friday night.

Friday’s match was a nail-biter and not the best display from the Cougars. Head coach Jason Kepner commented that the squad was “sloppy, gave away a lot of points on errors and (had) a lot of miscommunication.”

Charleston opened play against the Ospreys who, despite their 0-3 record, came ready to play. North Florida capitalized on sloppy defense from the Cougars, jumping to a 6-2 lead.

Errors on both sides of the net dictated the first set as the Ospreys edged out the Cougars, 25-23.

Transfer Darcy Dorton came up big with three consecutive kills in the second set, as the Cougars clawed their way back to tie at 11.

Lead changes were frequent throughout the battle, but the Cougars grabbed the set, 26-24.

After the break the Ospreys came out strong, but smart play from the Cougar front line kept the two squads even.

Charleston rallied back from a deficit late but couldn’t hold on, dropping the set, 25-23.

Sophomore Sloane White exploded in the fourth with a block and kill, leading the Cougars at a 9-7 advantage.

Questionable calls by the referees made for a tense set with both sides taken out of their game, but Charleston was able to refocus first, hitting 20 with a lead.

North Florida battled back late but a kill from senior Kelly Kolich ended the set 25-21.

The fifth and final set was evenly matched: Charleston tied at 13 before back-to-back points for the Ospreys gave them the set, 15-13 and the match, 3-2.

Dorton grabbed her third double-double of the season, leading the team with 21 kills and chipping in 14 digs. White put up 14 kills and junior Emily Neideffer hit efficiently with an attack mark of .500, earning her 7 kills.

Kallie McKown (1) sets the ball as Grace Rebarchak (22) and Kari Fidelholtz (5) follow the action during the Cougars' straight-set win over Slovenia. (Photo by Chopper Johnson)

On the defensive, senior redshirt Emily Shelton tied her career high with 32 digs while redshirt junior Kerstin Koehler tallied seven total blocks. The Cougars had 14 blocks overall.

A different Charleston team showed up on Saturday to face the Slovenian Junior National Team.

Kepner said the focus for Saturday was on “staying smooth and efficient” as well as “making sure everyone knew their responsibilities and played together as a team.”

Both sides came in to the scrimmage with a loss the night before, hungry for their first win on the weekend.

With a few changes to the starting lineup, the Cougars looked disjointed, allowing Slovenia to find gaps in their defense and build a 7-4 advantage. That advantage didn’t last long before Dorton asserted her offensive dominance, claiming four of the next five Charleston points.

Charleston’s front line played as a unit, gaining a four-point advantage before Slovenia tied the set at 18.

After a much-needed timeout, the Cougars found their offensive groove and ended the set with a kill from Koehler, 25-20.

Both benches were active in the start of the second, fueling the Cougars to four quick blocks and gaining a 12-8 lead that kept rolling despite Slovenia’s effort to hang on.

Errors plagued the Slovenian team and the Cougars lead continued to grow. Koehler ended the set with a strong kill, 25-15.

White and Koehler dominated the start of the third, Slovenia had no answer, going down early and never making their way back into contention.

Charleston brought in fresh legs and Slovenia attempted to close the growing gap but fell short. The Cougars swiftly closed out the third set, 25-12, to seal the match, 3-0.

Scoring was even throughout, with Dorton leading the team, boasting 11 kills, with nine and eight for Koehler and White, respectively.

Shelton lead the defense with 12 kills and the team put up a total of nine blocks.

Charleston met Memphis in the final match of the weekend, vying for the tournament title.

Memphis jumped to a 5-0 start, looking fiercely competitive, but after a quick time out the Cougars shifted gears and started to close the gap.

The set went in spurts of dominance but Charleston chipped away the lead before overtaking the Tigers at 19-18.

Quick decisions from the front line saw the Cougars to a first set win, 25-22.

The second set was vastly different, with neither team going up by more than two points and tensions running high.

Cougar offense took advantage of careless errors by the Tigers to take the set 25-22.

After the break there was a sense of déjà vu as Memphis took a 7-1 lead before White stepped up to help the Cougars get back in the game.

A strong block from Neideffer and Kolich gave Charleston their first lead of the set at 17-16, but this time the Cougars couldn’t maintain, allowing the Tigers to take the set, 25-20.

It was the Cougars who dominated the fourth, garnering a lead early and keeping it throughout the set.

Though the Tigers tightened up the six-point deficit, Charleston held on until the end and took the set, 25-23, and the match, 3-1.

White lead the Cougars with 14 kills with help from Koehler’s 12. Junior Kallie McKown saw a double-double with 39 assists and 18 digs. The team put up an impressive 15 blocks with Neideffer and Koehler having a hand in six each.

Shelton and Koehler were named to the all-tournament team and White was awarded MVP as the Cougars brought home the title.

Kepner’s tactical switch proved the difference between Friday night’s loss and Saturday’s tournament-sealing wins. He moved the team into a “5-1” setup, in which Charleston used a single setter, McKown, and dramatically cut back on its subs.

“I like this lineup right now but you never know down the road,” Kepner said.

Next weekend the Cougars travel to Kansas University for a vigorous weekend of play in the Jayhawk Invitational. They will face Kansas at 12:30 and Wyoming at 6:30 on Friday, and Arizona State at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Cougars will return to TD Arena on Sept. 14 to host Georgetown, Michigan State and Presbyterian in their final tournament before Southern Conference play starts on Sept. 22.

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