Volleyball comes up short in playoffs

Lions volleyball players embrace at mid-court following a kill in their Oct. 21 home match against Lee. After defeating West Florida in the Gulf South Conference tournament finale, North Alabama could not duplicate the results in the first round of the NCAA tournament as they fell to the Argonauts 3-1 in a rematch.

With a 3-1 loss to West Florida in the first round of the Division II playoffs Dec. 1, North Alabama’s volleyball season came to a close.

The Lions hit a pedestrian .140 offensively and were out-killed 54-44 in the loss. UNA finishes the season with a 25-10 record and a Gulf South Conference tournament championship.

“We’re still trying to let it set in,” said UNA head coach Stephanie Radecki. “It’s still hard to believe that the season is over. I think most teams’ seasons ends in a loss, so it kind of takes a little while to appreciate the excitement and the accomplishments we had.”

In the opening set down 23-16, UNA went on a 4-0 run to bring it within three. But UNA would go on to drop the first set, hitting a low .069 percent.

The team would respond in the second set, en route to a 25-17 set victory. The set went back and forth before the Argos allowed six points in a row to give UNA a commanding 17-8 lead.

West Florida would then close out the Lions in the next two sets, taking the third 25-17 and the fourth 25-20. UNA fell behind 10-1 in the deciding set, but would rally back to make it 23-20 before the final two points.

“Our girls didn’t give up,” Radecki said. “They fought extremely hard, and we had opportunities. That was a little disappointing. I definitely think we could’ve played a better match, but obviously West Florida is an extremely talented team.”

UNA loses four seniors, including Regional Player of the Year Natasha Fomina, who finished her career with 1,547 kills. Fomina also led the GSC with 481 kills this season.

The Lions will also be without defensive specialist Sarah Ann Tillery, right side hitter Victoria Quitanilla and outside hitter Peyton Lang.

Lang finished third on the team with 333 kills this season and second with 339 digs.

Tillery finished the season with 262 digs, averaging 2.15 per set. Quintanilla ends the season with 58 kills and 1.16 kills per set, including seven against West Florida in the GSC Championship.

“The seniors are a huge part of this team,” said junior middle hitter Lexie Bradley. “We have been playing with each other for the past three years, so knowing that we aren’t playing with them anymore made losing even tougher. We are all such great friends, so it’s sad to see them finishing their careers up.”

UNA returns a number of contributors, including five starters.

Bradley, along with fellow All-GSC honorees Ashtyn Kapovich and Jessica Austin, return next year.

Sophomore setter Jayden Davila-McClary, who finished first in the GSC with 11.75 assists per set returns, as well as sophomore Ava Carnley, who finished the season with 1.56 digs per set.

Radecki said the team has plenty of reasons to shoot for the stars next season.

“You can’t complain much about back-to-back conference championships,” she said. “We definitely have a lot more recruiting to do and a lot of training to do. With the returners we have, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be setting our goals super high again.”