NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- With Emory closing in on a tense four-set victory against Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Saturday, the Eagles’ three-time all-American setter Sydney Miles tried to push the ball to the Pointers’ side for a surprise kill.
The ball never made it over, deflecting off the net and down to the court.
For the briefest of moments, it was as if the world clock had skipped a beat.
“It happens,” Miles, a junior from Oklahoma City, said with a sheepish smile after the Eagles gained a berth in Monday’s Division III women’s volleyball final.
Emory defeated the pesky Pointers 26-24, 25-18, 18-25, 27-25 at the Freeman Center at Christopher Newport University.
“You have to laugh it off,” Miles said, “and just continue on to the next point.”
Knowing she has Miles leading her team into that next point, and all the ones after that, usually allows Emory coach Jenny McDowell to laugh last.
“I’m just glad she’s our setter,” said McDowell, whose Eagles reached their first national championship match since 2010. “She just will not let us lose.”
The Eagles (39-3) needed every bit of Miles’ talent, savvy and desire to put away Stevens Point (33-5), which lost in the semifinals for the second consecutive year.
And for the second match in a row, Miles doled out 56 assists, hitting the season-high she set in Friday’s victory against Williams. That prolific effort led to Emory’s season-high .453 hitting percentage.
The Eagles hit at a .275 clip Saturday -- senior Leah Jacobs led with 21 kills. But with Miles’ calm hands firmly on the wheel, Emory mustered the nerve to beat back a set point at 24-25 and clinch the victory with a run of three consecutive points.
“There’s only one first-team all-American setter and this is it,” Jacobs said, motioning toward Miles. “Sydney has an innate feeling towards her hitters, which is something I think makes Sydney exceptionally great.
“She knows who is on that day. ... And she knows exactly where to put the ball and exactly when to do it.”
Agile at 6-foot-1, Miles has the look of a powerful hitter. But the former soccer and basketball player said the setter’s life appealed to her from the day she picked up volleyball at 14, relatively late particularly for a future multi-all-American.
“It was late enough that I didn’t think I had the ability to be one of the better hitters,” Miles said. “I had a natural inclination to setting. I like being able to control what’s happening with the hitters. It’s a game to get someone open, and I enjoy that game.”
Miles said being “integral” to her team is what has always motivated her above all. No worries there when it come to the Eagles, who are 106-14 since Miles arrived to her school’s Atlanta campus.
“The team has put confidence in me and that allows me to go out there and do my job,” Miles said. “I think that everyone on this team is a leader in their own way this year. It’s really special in that sense.”
To that end, Miles said her consistent presence as an all-America first-teamer is only because there is a roster of special Eagles around her.
“If I don’t have a pass and I don’t have great hitters,” Miles said, “there’s no me.”