Suns clinch GAC title with sweep of Ouachita

Getting excellent performances from its defense, middles and all four seniors, the Arkansas Tech women’s volley ball team turned back Ouachita Baptist with a 3-0 sweep Thursday to close the regular season, earning its second straight outright Great American Conference championship in the process.
Seniors Colleen Wooten, Kaci Jackson, Rachel Hampton and Katie Huff all played considerable roles in the comfortable 25-17, 25-17, 25-20 victory for the Golden Suns (25-6, 15-1 GAC).

Huff tied with fellow middle McCall Wilkins with a match-high 10 kills, and the duo combined for five blocks as well and hit nearly .500 as a pair.

Hampton tied her season high with seven kills on .333 hitting, including four kills with no errors in the first set.

Wooten and Jackson, who have been key members of the back line all season, each hit double digits in digs Thursday night.

Jackson led with a match-high 14, adding three kills and two blocks, and Wooten turned in a career high with 12 digs during the final regular season match of her career.

“Our seniors played unbelievable tonight,” coach Kristy Bayer said. “It’s great to have those seniors on the court, because they understand what’s on the line, and the meaning behind the match as their last match inside Tucker Coliseum. I thought they played with a lot of heart, and I’m proud of all four of them.”

After jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first set, Tech would fall behind the Tigers (15-11, 8-8 GAC) 5-4 after a short burst from the guests.

A kill by Wilkins tied things back up and four errors on the next five points helped build a 9-6 lead for the Suns.

A three-point run after a Huff kill was enough to get OBU back to even, at 13-13, but Tech rallied to score the next three points and 12 of the final 16.

Back-to-back kills from Hampton got a five-point streak started for the Suns, with kills from Huff and Haley Owen closing the set.

The hosts started the second set a bit slower, falling behind 3-1 after scoring the opening point, but quickly charging back in front.

Two kills from freshman Hunter Eshnaur and three straight by Wilkins helped the Suns on an 8-1 run that turned the deficit into a 10-5 lead.

The advantage spread to 19-13 on a kill from Eshnaur and an ace out of freshman Sarita Stegall, and while the Tigers made it 22-17 at one point, kills from Stegall and Eshnaur around an OBU error closed the set and gave Tech a 2-0 lead in the match.

Two big runs early in the third set had the Tigers out to a nice lead, with a four-point run making it 4-1 and a six-point stretch opening the lead to 11-4.

The hosts were able to respond nicely though, getting three kills from Wilkins, one from Jackson and one by Hampton to go with two Tiger errors to get on an 8-1 run that tied things back up at 12-12.

Tech picked up its first lead of the set when back-to-back combo blocks form Jackson and Huff made it 15-14 and then 16-14 in favor of the Suns. OBU would take leads again at 17-16 and 18-19, but one more run centered around blocks from Wilkins and Eshnaur, as well as a solo stick-back from Huff, made it 21-18. Kills from Wilkins, a Stegall ace and an Eshnaur kill put an end to the match and the regular season.

“It’s great to get that win on our home court,” Bayer said. “We’ve been in situations where we’ve had to clinch the regular season on someone else’s court. But to be here on senior night with a big crowd, and to rebound from Tuesday and perform as well as we did tonight, it was great.”

Eshnaur finished with nine kills and nine digs on the night, while Stegall posted 37 assists and nine digs to go with two aces and Madison Nagel turned in 13 digs.

The Golden Suns take six days off before heading to Hot Springs, Arkansas for the Great American Conference Championship at Bank of the Ozarks Arena.