Fighting back from a big deficit for the second straight day on their home court, the Blue Hens knocked off Virginia Commonwealth in five sets Sunday night at Viera Court to capture yet another Colonial Athletic Association championship.
The top-seeded Blue Hens, who advanced in the semifinals Saturday after being down 2-0 against No. 5 seed James Madison, had another thrilling comeback in them as they fought back from a 2-1 deficit to win the fourth set 25-18 and led from start to finish in the deciding fifth set for a 15-9 victory.
Delaware (20-12), which extended its winnings streak to six matches, captured its second straight CAA title and the Blue Hens’ fourth in the last five years - joining championship teams in 2007, 2008, and 2010. Three of those victories have come in front of the home crowd at Viera Court. The Hens are now headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since 2007. The NCAA field will be announced on Sunday, Dec. 4.
“We are going to enjoy this one,” said Delaware head coach Bonnie Kenny, who has led the Hens to each of their conference titles. “I am so proud of this team tonight. We stuck to the game plan, we were really aggressive serving, and we were able to stop VCU’s momentum going into the fifth set. We’ve been here before and that makes a big difference. And it helps to play before a packed house, the crowd was great again tonight.”
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kim Stewart (at right), a senior who willed the Hens to the semifinal win over James Madison Saturday night, was at the forefront of the attack again Sunday vs. VCU as she collected 11 kills and 20 digs to lead the attack.
Teammates Alissa Alker and Renee Tomko also earned spots on the CAA All-Tournament Team as Alker posted a game-high 18 kills to go with 13 digs and Tomko contributed 54 assists and 10 digs.
“This is such a great experience,” said Stewart, a senior who was named to the All-CAA third team earlier in the week. “We all played our hearts out tonight. I think this was all about who wanted it more. We needed to protect this house and we really fed off the energy of the crowd.”
The loss ended a spirited run by No. 6 seed VCU, which knocked off No. 3 seed Towson 3-2 in the quarterfinals on Friday and upended No. 2 seed Northeastern with a 3-2 comeback of their own in the semifinals.
The Rams (17-16), who won their lone CAA title in 2005 as the No. 4 seed but were runners-up in 2006 and 2009, were looking to become the first No. 6 seed to capture the CAA Tournament since the seeding format started in 1988. VCU had been the only other No. 6 seed to advance to the finals when they went all the way to the title game in 2006.
Kristin Boyd and Jessica Ojukwu each posted 14 kills for the Rams while Courtney Hott added 12 kills and Cecilia Aragao registered 41 assists. Hott and Aragao also earned spots on the All-Tournament team and were joined by Northeastern’s Nichole Kurz and James Madison’s Holly Wall.
Four of the five games of the tournament went to a deciding fifth game with Delaware and VCU each taking part in two of them. VCU jumped out to a 2-1 lead after winning the first game 26-24 and taking game three by a 25-15 margin. The Blue Hens stayed in the match with a decisive 25-17 victory in the second set.
The Hens, who had defeated VCU 3-1 back on Oct. 15 in Richmond, improved to 5-1 in five-set games this season. The Hens showed their mettle in the deciding fifth game on this night as well, jumping out to quick leads of 6-1 and 8-3 and holding on for the victory.
After VCU rallied back to cut the lead to 11-8, the Hens pulled away on kills by Chelsea Lawrence and Katie Hank and a block by Alker and Karina Evans. Delaware clinched the win on an attack error, setting off a wild celebration on the court.
“The difference this year was the way we started (1-6 against a schedule that included four Top 25 opponents),” said Kenny when asked about what made this year’s conference title different than the others. “We were challenged every day and our kids never thought they could achieve this. But it’s a credit to them because they got better every day and really stuck together. We will enjoy this and get back to work on Tuesday.”
VCU jumped out to a 1-0 lead as the Rams won 26-24 in a set that featured six ties. VCU used a 4-1 run to go up 21-18 before the Hens tied things two more times. Kills by Hott and Aragao clinched the victory.
Delaware came back to tie the match at 1-1 with a 25-17 victory in the second set as the Hens jumped out to leads of 6-0, 9-2, and 12-4 and never looked back. VCU rallied late with four straight points to pull to within 23-17, but the Hens finished things on a kill by Tomko.
The Rams took a 2-1 lead with a commanding 25-15 win in the third set as they used an 8-2 run to take a 17-11 lead and never looked back. The Hens then knotted the score at 2-2 with a 25-18 victory in the fourth set.
After a 2-2 tie, Delaware scored four straight points, including two by Stewart, and never looked back. Delaware led 21-12 before VCU fought back with four straight points to narrow the margin to 21-16. But the Hens pulled away and scored the game-winner on a kill by Lawrence.
Delaware def. Virginia Commonwealth, 3-0 (24-26, 25-17, 15-25, 25-18, 15-9)
VCU (Kills-Assists-Digs-Blocks): Low, 1-5-20-0; Hott, 12-0-5-7; Farkas, 8-1-5-2; Waters, 3-0-0-9; Aragao, 3-41-19-3; Ojukwu, 14-3-4-4; Friday, 0-1-19-0; Love, 0-0-12-0; Warner, 0-0-2-0; Boyd, 14-1-2-7; Totals, 55-52-88-16.
Delaware (Kills-Assists-Digs-Blocks): Hank, 15-0-9-0; Tomko, 2-54-10-3; Stewart, 11-0-20-3; Alker, 18-1-13-9; Lawrence, 8-0-0-7; Evans, 4-0-3-9; Rosehill, 0-0-16-0; Reigel, 0-0-2-0; Walton, 0-2-18-0; Totals, 58-57-91-17.