After an up-and-down regular season, Samford volleyball came up short in the SoCon Tournament. After two wins over Furman and The Citadel, the Bulldogs fell to Wofford in the championship game, one win away from another title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The opening tournament win over Furman was a five-set thriller that favored Samford. Gracie Lynn Butler had a match-high 21 kills, adding to her All-SoCon first-team season. SoCon Freshman of the Year Kaleigh Meritt had 14 kills, and Kayla Keshock was an important playmaker with 33 assists.
The contest was a back-and-forth, heavyweight fight. Samford had Furman on the ropes in the first set but gave up a 5-0 run, leading to a 29-27 Paladins victory. In the next set, Samford won another close one, 25-23, but Furman regained control and momentum with a 25-21 decision in the third. Samford scored two straight-set wins with their backs against the wall and sent the Paladins home in a rematch of last year’s SoCon Tournament final.
In the next game, the Bulldogs faced the Citadel Bulldogs. Headed into the matchup, The Citadel was one of the best teams in the country, having accrued a dominant 27-2 record in the regular season. They were the perennial favorites to take home the SoCon Tournament title, but sometimes, one bad game is enough to sink a juggernaut.
Samford was not intimidated by The Citadel and swept the other Bulldogs 3-0. Meritt played beyond her years with a match-high 14 kills, ten digs and two aces. Butler had 13 kills and digs and a pair of blocks. Each set was close, but Samford used decisive runs and team play to shock The Citadel and head to the final against Wofford.
In that same matchup against Wofford, the Bulldogs magic ran out in a 3-1 loss. Butler once again shined with 12 kills, nine digs and six blocks. After two successful games, Wofford managed to shut down Meritt and used a stellar effort at the net with 20 blocks to Samford’s 10 to seal the victory. The victory for Wofford was the first tournament title for any women’s sport at Wofford, and the Terriers will next face Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
A rollercoaster season ends for Samford, but with players like Butler and Meritt returning, the Bulldogs should again be in contention for a SoCon title in 2024.