After being bowled over by the Oklahoma Baptist in one of the best games in GAC history in the final round of the conference tournament, the Arkansas Tech Volleyball team will open the Central Region Championships in the NCAA Division II in Warrensburg, Missouri, as the No.8 seed in the NCAA Central Region and will face the nation’s No.1 team: Mid Missouri. The Golden Suns are the only GAC team to participate in the tournament. Arkansas Tech enters the game 22-7 on aggregate.
The Golden Suns headed to the GAC tournament after the regular season as a No.3 seed with a 19-7 overall record and a 13-3 conference record. In their tournament opener against Henderson State in the quarterfinals, the Golden Suns easily managed to advance to the semifinals after a 3-0 sweep over the Reddies. In the semifinals, Arkansas Tech faced Southwestern Oklahoma State, the only conference opponent they had yet to beat this season after being swept down the road by the Bulldogs during the regular season. This time it would be the Golden Suns who would emerge victorious with a 3-1 victory over the Bulldogs, bringing them to the GAC tournament final.
Once again, Arkansas Tech is set to prove itself in their toughest game of the season against Oklahoma Baptist, who was the reigning two-time GAC champion and knocked out Tech the past two years in the semifinals. The Golden Suns had swept the Bison at Tucker earlier this season and knew they could stick with them. The Golden Suns forced a fifth set and were down 7-1 to start the final set as the Bison appeared to be heading for their third consecutive conference championship. Arkansas Tech spoiled the Bison’s plans for a hat-trick, but ended the game with an incredible 14-3 run to win the fifth set 15-10 and stun the Bison in an upset. Since the Golden Suns won the conference tournament, they have received an automatic offer to compete in the NCAA DII Central Region tournament.
Central Missouri has been one of the nation’s most dominant teams throughout the season and is heading into the game against Arkansas Tech as the nation’s top team. During the regular season, the Jennies were 28-3 overall and finished 18-2 in the MAIAA. Like Arkansas Tech, central Missouri won its conference tournament, which gave it an automatic bid for the NCAA DII Central Region tournament. The Jennies are also hosts of the tournament, which they qualified for by finishing the region’s number one seed.
After the regular season, Arkansas Tech was fifth in the GAC in hitting percentage and opponent hitting percentage. The Golden Suns also finished third in the GAC in blocks and were the first serving aces.
Leading Tech’s offensive offense is senior outside hitter Tymber Riley, who leads the team overall with 337 eliminations this season. Riley was fourth in the GAC in kills and fifth in points. Right-sided main hitter and GAC tournament MVP Haylee Paladini follows Riley with 245 kills this season. Emily Ragsdale and Kaitlynn Bradley are also expected to prove to be strong offensive contributors with 195 and 182 eliminations, respectively. Bradley was third on the GAC in hitting percentage. After a solid tournament run for rookie Abby Simpson, you can expect the outside hitter to play some meaningful minutes on offense. Junior passer and All-GAC tournament member Brianna Merkel, who has collected 789 assists this season, will lead the offense. Merkel finished the regular season seventh for assists and ninth for GAC aces.
Senior Libero and All-GAC tournament member Madison Grantham will lead the Golden Suns in recoveries with 457 this season averaging 4.31 collects per set. Grantham is currently third on Arkansas Tech’s all-time dig list with 1,421 total career digs. The senior libero was ninth in the GAC for recoveries and third for aces. Ragsdale will be in the front row for Tech, who will lead the team in blocks with 82. Bradley and Paladini will also be a powerful force with 76 and 68 blocks respectively.
The Golden Suns face the Jennies in the opening game of the NCAA DII Central Region tournament tomorrow, Thursday, December 2. The game is scheduled for a first serve at 5 p.m. at Warrensburg.