UMSL volleyball team captures first-ever regional championship

UMSL volleyball players gather together and hold up their regional championship trophy

University of Missouri–St. Louis volleyball players huddle together and hold up their NCAA Division II Midwest Regional championship trophy, won Saturday night with a come-from-behind victory against Ferris State in Quincy, Illinois. (Photos courtesy of UMSL Athletics)

University of Missouri–St. Louis senior volleyball player Charlotte Richards gave chase as the ball sailed over her head off the arm of Ferris State’s Kaylee Maat during the fifth set of Saturday night’s NCAA Division II Midwest Regional final at Pepsi Arena in Quincy, Illinois.

But seeing it was going to sail long, Richards abruptly changed course and went sliding on her knees back amid her UMSL teammates with her arms flung wide. Those already on the court and the rest running over from the bench quickly swarmed her in celebration.

Charlotte Richards slides on her knees amid her teammates after the UMSL volleyball team clinched the Midwest Regional title

Senior outside hitter Charlotte Richards (at left) slides on her knees amid her teammates after the UMSL volleyball team watched the ball sail out of bounds off Ferris State’s Kaylee Maat to clinch the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional title.

With that attack error by the Bulldogs, the Tritons had completed their dramatic comeback after dropping the first two sets and locked up a 21-25, 26-28, 25-18, 25-16, 15-11 victory to claim the program’s first-ever regional championship and book a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals on Dec. 1.

“The feeling is really indescribable,” Richards said a short time later in a press conference. “I’ve never felt anything like this before.”

Richards has experienced a lot of highs in her career. She’s been named Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year each of the past three seasons. Just last season, she led UMSL to the GLVC Tournament final and helped it secure its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, and the Tritons earned a share of this year’s conference title after reeling off 10 consecutive victories against league opponents.

But none of that compared to the thrills she and her teammates experienced over three days in Quincy. They started out by beating fourth-seeded Rockhurst in straight sets in Thursday’s opening-round match, avenging their loss to the Hawks less than a week earlier in the GLVC Tournament semifinals. They then took out top-seed Quincy – the team with which they shared the regular-season title – in front of the biggest crowd they’ve seen all season.

They saved the biggest thrills for last as they fought back after dropping the first two sets, including a second set that saw them squander three set points.

“It’s never easy to be in that situation,” Coach Ryan Young said of losing the first two sets. “But I think we have a pretty mature group, and I think we just tried to tell them to stay in the moment and think about our game plan and stick to it. We were so close to winning Set 2 against Ferris. Just a couple of balls didn’t bounce our way. So we were telling them, ‘Hey, keep believing in what we’re doing.’”

Middle blocker Hannah Copeland leaps and swings a ball against Ferris State

Freshman middle blocker Hannah Copeland leaps and swings at a ball against Ferris State. Copeland finished with 11 kills.

Richards had 10 of her team-high 20 kills spread across the final three sets. But as was the case throughout this season, the Tritons were attacking Ferris State from all directions.

“That’s why we’re still playing,” Young said. “You have to have more than one or two attackers, and I think we have five attackers that can go off on any night – whether it be our middles, our right sides or our outsides.”

Senior Lexie Rang matched Richards with 20 kills. Right-side hitter Hailey Flowers had 13 kills, and freshman middle blocker Hannah Copeland added 11.

Directing it all was freshman setter Caitlin Bishop, who finished with 62 assists. Junior Kylie Adams added a team-high 30 digs to lead a strong defensive effort by the Tritons.

Bishop has had no easy task replacing two-time first-team All-GLVC honoree Kaileen Herman, but she’s proved up to the challenge throughout the year, and Saturday was the latest example.

“Caitlin has been unbelievable,” Young said. “She spreads the ball out well, and I think one thing that’s huge for us is that she has the ability to set anybody in any situation. She can force kids and just has some really clean hands. I think that’s an area that helps us hugely offensively. We’re just really fortunate, recruiting some good kids and getting them to buy into our strategies and our skill development.”

UMSL volleyball players gather together holding up No. 1 fingers and a Tickets Punched sign after winning the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional

The Tritons punched their tickets to the NCAA Division II Tournament quarterfinals. They’ll face No. 2 seed Barry University on Dec. 1 in Seattle.

That has UMSL (24-6) in a place it has never been before.

In his 12th season, Young, who earned his second GLVC Coach of the Year Award this fall, will be taking his team to the eight-team NCAA Championship tournament Dec. 1-3 at Royal Brougham Pavilion on the campus of Seattle Pacific in Seattle.

“Amazing,” Richards said in the press conference on Saturday night. “It’s never been done in program history. We’re going to be busy scheduling some flights.”

The Tritons learned Monday that they’ll be seeded seventh in their quarterfinal match at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 and will take on No. 2 seed Barry University from Miami Shores, Florida. Barry (28-5) swept defending national champion Tampa on Sunday to win the South Regional.


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