Oral Roberts University's Cinderella run through the Southland Conference Volleyball Tournament ended on Sunday afternoon as the Golden Eagles fell to top seed Central Arkansas, 3-1, in the SLC Championship Match.
The Sugar Bears (30-4) won the title by scores of 25-21, 25-23, 16-25 and 25-21. With the win, UCA earns the Southland's automatic bid into the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship.
ORU was attempting to become the first sixth seed in SLC Tournament history to take home the conference title. With earlier wins over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State, ORU was already the lowest seed in SLC history to advance to the conference finals.
Jessica Hays led UCA with 28 kills and earned Tournament MVP honors. Heather Schnars added 14 kills, while Shelbee Berringer led the Sugar Bears with 25 digs.
Tatum Fredeen led ORU with 14 kills in her final collegiate match, while Jessica Pancratz and Sheina Fernandes added nine kills apiece. SLC Libero of the Year Bruna Silva led all players with 27 digs, and Pancratz added eight total blocks.
For their efforts, Silva and Fernandes earned spots on the All-Tournament Team.
ORU hit .192 as a team, while UCA hit at a .173 clip. However, most of that disparity came in the third set, when ORU swung at a .259 clip while the Sugar Bears were at -.024.
The loss is the second in as many years for the Golden Eagles in a conference final. ORU fell to North Dakota State, 3-0, in the 2011 Summit League Championship Match.
UCA surged ahead in the first set with an early 5-0 run. Schnars posted back-to-back kills to start the surge, which ended with the top seed up, 11-6. Schnars stifled a late ORU run with another kill, making the score 22-18, and Hays finished off the set at 25-21 with a kill of her own.
The home team broke a 12-all tie in the second set by reeling off four straight points, including consecutive service aces by Marissa Collins. ORU tried to rally, making a late 4-1 run to close the gap to 24-23, but Jessica Nagy closed the set down with a kill, giving the Bears a 25-23 win.
A Pancratz kill jumpstarted an early five-point run that gave the Golden Eagles a 5-2 lead in the third set. ORU would cruise throughout the period, stretching their lead to 15-10 as Pancratz combined with Laura Taylor on a block. Later the junior teamed with Joana Gruber for another block, making the lead 19-12, and Fredeen kept ORU alive with a kill that gave the sixth seed a 25-16 victory.
The fourth set started on the right foot for ORU, as Pancratz and Sadie Schaffner combined for a block to give the visitors a 6-1 lead. But Central Arkansas stayed close and eventually tied the set at 13-all on a Hays kill. The top seed turned it on late, with Alicia Dittrich providing kills on the match's final two rallies to give the Sugar Bears a title-clinching 25-21 win.
The match was the final collegiate contest in the careers of Fernandes, Fredeen, Gruber, Olivia Ophus and Shelby Robb.
ORU's season ends with a record of 17-15. The Golden Eagles were 11-7 in their first trip through the Southland Conference and won a pair of conference tournament matches for the first time since 2006.
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