Nov. 21, 2010

Wingate, N.C. -

Courtesy of Wingate Athletics

The top-seeded and 25th-ranked Wingate University Bulldogs swept the second-seeded Flagler College Saints 3-0 to win the first NCAA Regional title in Wingate volleyball history. Wingate wins its 29th straight match of the year and advances to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs won by scores of 25-23, 25-15 and 25-21 to improve to 31-1 overall. Flagler ends its season at 29-9 overall.

"I have been coaching for over 30 years... and this is definitely my favorite moment and my most memorable accomplishment as a coach," head coach Shelton Collier says. "We have been working hard to develop a team that could succeed and have a chance to go to the Elite Eight and we actually pulled it off, which is really exciting for all of us. Clearly our team really wanted this; tonight we were good enough to get it done. It was special to be able to accomplish this on our home court with our families and fans here to share it with us."

The Bulldogs were led by a pair of seniors. Middle blocker Stormi Gale (Richmond, Texas) had nine kills, seven digs and six blocks, while outside hitter Lauren Billo (Orland Park, Ill.) also had nine kills. Freshman outside hitter Cory McGowan (Pittsburgh, Pa.) added six kills and 15 digs, while redshirt freshman middle blocker Anna Hilton (Hickory, N.C.) had six kills and six blocks. Senior setter Amanda Clark (Timberlake, N.C.) had 21 assists and seven digs, while junior libero Maggie Malone (Chicago, Ill.) also had 15 digs.

Senior middle blocker Meg Weathersby (Maitland, Fla.) had 14 kills and 16 digs to lead the Flagler attack. Sophomore outside hitter Dianna Craine (Oshawa, Ontario) added six kills and seven digs for the Saints. Junior setter Olivia Snipes (Easley, S.C.) handed out 16 assists, while sophomore libero Casey Gnann (Boca Raton, Fla.) had 13 digs.

The Bulldogs used a 4-0 run to take a 13-9 lead in the first set. Hilton got it started with a kill, while Gale and Hilton capped it with a block. The Saints battled back, tying the set at 19 on a kill from freshman outside hitter Sophie Meyer (Orlando, Fla.). Flagler took a one-point lead on an ace from sophomore outside hitter Laura Beth Lancaster (Ocala, Fla.). A kill from Craine gave Flagler a 22-21 lead. Gale tied it with a kill, while McGowan and sophomore middle blocker Grace Krauser (Louisville, Ky.) put Wingate on top by one with a block. An ace from Gale made it 24-22. McGowan concluded the opening set with a kill.

Wingate used a 6-0 run to take a 17-8 lead in the second frame. Billo started it with a kill, while Hilton followed with a kill and a block. Clark added an ace, while a block from Hilton and Gale finished the flurry to give the `Dogs a nine-point lead. An ace from Snipes cut the lead to seven at 20-13. McGowan responded with a kill, while a block from Krauser and junior outside hitter Janice Ehorn (Orange, Conn.) made it 22-13. Billo made it 24-15 with a kill, while sophomore outside hitter Katie Handy (Palos Verdes, Calif.) capped the set with an ace. Wingate hit .300 in the second frame, while the Saints hit .000.

The Saints jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the third frame, capped by a kill from sophomore outside hitter Crystal Niederriter (Merritt Island, Fla.). Wingate had the emphatic response, using an 8-0 run to take a 14-10 lead. Senior middle blocker Rebecca Bloemer (Louisville, Ky.) started the spurt with a kill. Back-to-back Billo kills tied it at 10, while an ace from Clark made it 11-10. The Bulldogs turned up their blocking, getting back-to-back blocks from Gale and Hilton, followed by a block from Gale and Billo to make it 14-10. A Billo kill put the Bulldogs on top 20-16. Flagler scored the four of the next five points to cut the lead to one, capped by an ace from Craine. Back-to-back Flagler errors pushed Wingate's lead back to three at 23-20. Gale added a kill to give the `Dogs a 24-20 advantage. Hilton slammed home a kill to cap the match and give Wingate its first- ever regional title.

The Bulldogs had 41 kills and 15 errors on the night, good for a hitting percentage of .206. Flagler hit .057 on the night, with 33 kills and 26 errors in 123 swings. Wingate had five aces on the night, led by Clark with two. Craine had two of Flagler's four aces. The Bulldogs racked up 12 blocks on the match, led by Gale and Hilton with six each.

The Bulldogs advance to the Elite Eight, where they will take on the University of Central Missouri. The national quarterfinal match will take place on Thursday, Dec. 2, in Louisville, Ky. The Elite Eight is hosted by Bellarmine University and the Louisville Sports Commission, Dec. 2-4. The championship will be part of the Division II National Championships Festival in Louisville.

(Wingate University assistant sports information director Hugh Patton wrote this article. Patton is a 2006 Wingate graduate with a B.A. degree in Communication Studies.)