The Harding women’s volleyball team won only its second Great American Conference (GAC) Tournament Championship on Saturday after defeating Henderson State University (HSU) 3-1. Harding also won the regular season GAC crown earlier this season.
The Bisons got off to a slow start in the final, falling behind 9-6 in the first set before eventually losing the set 25-23. The Lady Bisons struggled with inconsistent play, including eight attack errors. HSU took advantage of the mistakes and pulled out to an early lead.
The second set seemed to follow suit, as the Reddies climbed to an early 8-2 lead. Harding managed to recover and go on a 16-5 run, eventually taking the second set by a score of 25-19. The biggest difference between the first and second set was Harding’s kill accuracy. After eight attacking errors in the first set, the Lady Bisons had 17 kills in the second set and hit .259 as a team.
Senior outside hitter Madison Poen led Harding’s attack with 18 kills. Poen hit .241 and got 22 digs on the night, recording another double-double.
After their second set victory, the Lady Bisons took control of the match, winning the third set 25-20 and the fourth set 25-21. Senior right side hitter Emma Reeves finished the match with a kill, which secured the win.
Harding entered the tournament as the favorite after finishing with a conference record of 15-1 and on a 10-game win streak. The tournament win was only the second GAC Tournament Championship in program history. The last came in 2012, when Harding also won the regular season conference title.
The Lady Bisons will now head to Nebraska after qualifying for the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament. Harding automatically qualified for the tournament by winning the GAC Tournament. This is the fifth time the Lady Bisons have qualified for the national tournament and the first since 2005.
The Lady Bisons will take on the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) in the first round of the tournament. Harding is the No. 8 seed in the Central Regional, while UNK is the No. 1 seed. The Lopers enter the tournament as the No. 3 ranked team in the country. UNK holds the second-longest streak for consecutive tournament berths. This will be the school’s 20th consecutive appearance. They finished the season with a record of 33-2.
Harding will have a tall task to advance out of the Central Region. Not only is UNK a formidable No. 1 seed, four other teams in this region held the No. 1 spot at one point this season. Also, the reigning Division II Player of the Year, Southwest Minnesota State’s Taylor Reiss is playing in the Central Region.
Earlier this season, Harding Head Volleyball Coach Meredith Fear said her team was prepared to take this step.
“They’re very motivated to get to the [conference] tournament, win the tournament, and get to the NCAA tournament,” Fear said.
With those goals completed, the team can focus on a new goal: beating UNK tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Kearney, Nebraska.