Volleyball claims Classic title with epic five-game win against Georgia
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado volleyball scored the first five points Saturday night against the SEC's Georgia Bulldogs and then scored nine of the last 10 points, too.
In between those runs at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion was the meat of a thrilling 3-2 (25-20, 16-25, 38-36, 22-25, 15-11) Hampton Inn & Suites Northern Colorado Classic championship victory that the Bears and their fans will not soon forget.
Sophomore Kelley Arnold had 19 kills in the win to cement 2010 Classic MVP honors, and Northern Colorado (6-2) also got double-digit kills from seniors Julie Stephenson (a career-high 15) and Ashley Lichtenberg (14) and junior Breanna Williams (11).
Throw in some stellar defensive play -- Stephenson also had a career-high 16 digs, and junior Amanda Arterburn had 27 -- and it all added up to the Bears' fifth match victory in a row in 2010 and their first victory against an SEC opponent since 1981 (a win against Tennessee).
Northern Colorado early defeated Fairfield 3-0 to enter the evening showdown with a spotless 3-0 Classic mark, as did Georgia.
"This was a huge victory for our program," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said. "We just keep adding on to what we're doing and what we've done, what we accomplished last year, and just scheduling a program like Georgia on our home court, just getting them here, was another notch in that process.
"But to beat them on our home court? That was sweet. I played in the SEC in college (LSU), and I've got a great appreciation for the style of volleyball they play down there. We took a a huge step with this win."
The Bears shot out to a quick 5-0 start in game one, but Benson and her players knew it wasn't going to be that easy against a program as entrenched as the Bulldogs (6-1), members of the SEC since 1932.
And they were right.
Northern Colorado earned all of its accomplishments Saturday night, including an epic game-three win that featured 32 ties and 16 lead changes.
Neither team led by more than two points the entire way in the third game, and it didn't end until Arnold and sophomore Brittany Crenshaw stonewalled Georgia freshman Brittany Northcutt, whose unsuccessful attack fell to the floor and set off a crescendo among the 1,066 fans.
"That game will be a game I'll remember for the rest of my coaching career," Benson said. "It was incredible some of the things we battled through, and we were able to pull it out. We just wanted it so bad, and it showed."
"That's the longest game I've ever been a part of -- even in high school," Stephenson said. "It was just one of those games that kept going and going, and it got to a point where neither team wanted to lose it."
The Bears never led in game four, though, and then fell behind 10-6 in game five. At that point, it appeared the gas tank was empty after the back-and-forth emotional roller-coaster of game three.
But then, out of nowhere, Northern Colorado turned it back on and brought it home, with six kills and two blocks making up eight of their nine points.
"We leave this weekend with a ton of confidence," Benson said. "We learned that we can handle teams that maybe aren't as big in our first three matches, and then when a team challenges us, we can push back. That's what we did with Georgia. They were big and athletic, and we proved we can be big and athletic and play high above the net."
2010 Hampton Inn & Suites Northern Colorado Classic All-Tournament Team.
Kelley Arnold (Northern Colorado) - MVP
Elizabeth Beck (UMKC)
Ann Dylla (Georgia)
Kathleen Gates (Georgia)
Marissa Hughes (Northern Colorado)
Ashley Lichtenberg (Northern Colorado)
Brittany Northcutt (Georgia)