Arkansas Tech University’s record-breaking 2017 volleyball season ended on Thursday night when nationally second-ranked Southwest Minnesota State University defeated the nationally eighth-ranked Golden Suns 25-9, 25-20, 25-21 in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament at Marshall, Minn.
The 2017 ATU volleyball team established new program records for longest winning streak (35 matches), best start to a season (35-0) and highest winning percentage in a season (.972).
The Golden Suns finished 35-1 overall. They won the Great American Conference regular season championship, the GAC Tournament championship, attained the highest national ranking (No. 8) in the history of ATU volleyball and made the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in the history of the program.
“I told the girls that this stage we would play on tonight is something that athletes dream of,” said Golden Suns head coach Kristy Bayer. “In front of this amazing crowd, playing against one of the top teams in the country…it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think it took us about a set to get used to things. We haven’t faced a team this good before or seen a crowd like this. The pace was a lot faster, and we haven’t seen a hitter like Taylor Reiss this season. It took us about a set to get used to that, but I think once we did and we got into a rhythm, we competed very, very well.”
Reiss made 17 kills for the Mustangs (29-3), who advanced to the NCAA Tournament Central Regional semifinals before a crowd of 1,405 fans at their home gymnasium.
Lexie Johnston made 10 kills, Amanda Milnick had 26 assists and Madison Nagel contributed 11 digs for Arkansas Tech.
“You don’t think about the immense pressure that an undefeated season puts on 18-to-22 year olds,” said Bayer. “We started the season, and we were 12-0 and then 20-0, and that was great. You get down to November, and the build up with being undefeated, that’s immense pressure on young student-athletes. There were several situations when our backs were against the wall this season, and we just fought through to end up with the perfect season. It wasn’t the way we wanted it to end, but we’re extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished this season.”