LAKELAND, FL - On a night that featured one of the longest sets in program history and a new addition to the 1,000 kill club, Florida Southern College volleyball picked up a crucial victory over No. 23 Saint Leo, 3-0, in Sunshine State Conference action on Tuesday at Jenkins Field House. The No. 22 Moccasins (23-6, 17-1 SSC) dominated the first two sets and outlasted the Lions (20-6, 14-4) in a wild third set to clinch at least a share of the SSC regular-season title.
If the Moccasins win at least one of their next two games against Nova Southeastern (Nov. 17) and Barry (Nov. 18), Florida Southern would be the outright conference champion and claim its eighth SSC championship.
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Playing in front of a rowdy home crowd, Florida Southern jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first set and never looked back. The Moccasins trailed just twice in the set when Saint Leo scored two of the first three points for leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but FSC used a 4-0 run to jump in front and never trailed again. With the score tied at 7-7, Florida Southern reeled off seven-straight points to take an insurmountable 14-7 lead en route to a 25-16 first-set win.
• The Mocs looked as if they might cruise in the second set after snagging a 3-0 lead, but the Lions battled back and held a 9-8 lead in the early stages. With the score tied at 11-11, Florida Southern scored five points in a row to take a 16-11 lead and force a Saint Leo timeout. The Lions would come out of the break and score the next two points, but would never get any closer as the Moccasins took a 25-18 second-set win.
• In the third and final set, neither team was able to get much separation until the Mocs used four-straight points to turn a 12-12 tie into a 16-12 lead. Just when it looked as if Florida Southern had stolen all the momentum, Saint Leo would score four in a row to tie things up and eventually pushed the Mocs to the brink at 23-21. Florida Southern scored a pair of points to tie things at 23-23 but had to fight off defeat twice in a row before taking a 26-25 lead.
• That's when the real drama would start as the teams traded blows time and time again over the next several minutes. The Moccasins had four chances to seal the victory in extra points, but the Lions answered each time and eventually gained the upper hand at 30-29. The teams would combine to stave off defeat seven more times before Florida Southern finally ended the marathon with three-straight points to take a 38-36 third-set win.
• Florida Southern hit .306 on the night while holding Saint Leo to just .153. The Moccasins finished with a 10-6 edge in blocks and tallied four service aces to just one for the Lions. Nicole Mattson led the Mocs with 13 kills, while Anna Tovo added 11. Bethany Besancenez notched 45 assists and 11 digs while Nicci Joyce (16) and Gabby Fresh (10) each had double-digit digs. Rachael Martin finished with five total blocks to lead all players in that category.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern improved to 73-9 all-time when facing Saint Leo, including 38-1 at Jenkins Field House. The victory was Florida Southern's first sweep of Saint Leo since Nov. 4, 2011.
• The Moccasins' 16-match winning streak is the longest since 1993 when the Mocs won 17 in a row. The school record for the longest win streak is 33, set by the 1990 squad. Tuesday's win was Florida Southern's 10th-straight home victory, its longest home winning streak since notching 14-straight home wins in 2014.
• The 38-36 third set was the second longest set in school history, and the longest since the NCAA moved from 30 to 25-point sets in 2008. The longest set in school history came on Nov. 16, 2002, when the Mocs fell to Tampa 39-37 in the third set.
• Mattson became the 23rd player in school history to reach 1,000 career kills, finishing the night with 1,009. Her 1,000th kill came on the third point of the second set. She reached the 1,000 kill plateau in 296 sets, the fourth-fastest in program history.
• Besancenez pushed her career assist total to 3,596. She currently ranks sixth in school history and needs 219 more to move into fifth place. Tovo increased her career kill total to 1,496 to move into fourth place in the FSC record books. Allie Geary increased her career block total to 359 and needs six more to move into eighth place in school history.
• Florida Southern finishes off the regular season with road contests at Nova Southeastern (Nov. 17) and Barry (Nov. 18). The NCAA will announce the 2017 tournament qualifiers and regional hosts on Nov. 20. The Moccasins were ranked No. 1 in the latest NCAA South Region poll and are likely to host the South Regional for the first time since 1990.