WASHINGTON — The stage was set for Fairfield and Washington to have one final battle on Tuesday night when the Southeast Conference teams met up for Day 2 of the SEC tournament.
The Trojans and Demons both came into Day 2 with perfect 3-0 records, meaning the end-of-night battle between the two teams would likely be for the SEC title.
Fairfield swept Fort Madison 25-9, 25-16 in the first round of the night. Washington toppled Burlington 25-19, 25-15 in the next, and that meant both teams would go into the final match undefeated.
“Last week we set ourselves up for an excellent opportunity,” said Washington head coach Aaron Six. “No matter whether we won or lost against Burlington, we’d still have that opportunity to be conference champions.”
When the two teams finally met up at the end of the night, it was Washington that had the early edge. The Demons jumped out to a 6-2 lead, and the hometown crowd was on its feat, seeing their squad up early in the best-of-three series.
Washington continued to lead by a small handful of points until midway through the set. The Demons watched a 17-15 lead slowly turn on its head, as Fairfield caught fire.
The Trojans would go on to dominated the next 11 points. Fairfield won 10 of them, thanks in large part to a huge set from Clare Thompson, who took control of the middle of the net late in the set. Lilly Bergren stepped up to serve late and brought the opening set home 25-18 for the Trojans, who grabbed the 1-0 series lead.
Fairfield controlled the second set. The Trojans grabbed an early lead and didn’t let go, thanks in part to five kills by senior Rowan Terrell, one of five seniors to see the court for Fairfield.
“We work a lot on teamwork, and striving to get through our downs,” Terrell said. “We get in our slumps, and we find a way to work it out.”
Fairfield’s momentum held until the last point. Leading 24-20, the Trojans sent one more ball down to the ground, and the celebration was on.
“We dogpiled, tackled each other, cried probably,” Terrell said. “It was a blur.”
The win made Fairfield a perfect 5-0 in SEC tournament play after earning the No. 1 seed with a 4-1 regular season.
“It means so much,” said Addison Ferrel, another senior. “We’ve all been so close, and we’ve been playing with each other since we were in third grade. They’re all my best friends.”
The championship marked a second-straight title for Fairfield head coach Vicki Rebling, who took over the program last season.
“They love playing together,” Rebling said. “It’s just so fun to watch them and be able to coach them.”
Thompson led the Trojans with seven kills in the de facto championship match. Terrell had three kills. Maddie Jones dished out 20 assists and sent four kills over the net as well.
Bergren led the Trojan defense with 10 digs. Jones and Savannah Hollander each had six.
Washington’s Leighton Messinger and Ella Greiner each ended the match with eight kills. Lauren Hinrichsen led the way with nine assists.
“We didn’t close out,” Coach Six said. “It’s the little things that were going to make the difference, and unfortunately we didn’t win the little things.”
Mt. Pleasant came into the night with a 1-2 record, but the Panthers were still alive to finish as high as third. A thrilling three-set win over Keokuk made that possibility a reality.
After dominating the first set, 25-16, the Panthers dropped the second, 25-21 to force a deciding third set. Keokuk had match point on multiple occasions, but the Panthers rose up to win Set 3, 16-14.
“It’s exciting,” said Mt. Pleasant coach Logan Wall. “It’s exciting to see that we finally feel like we’re working together, and we’re communicating a lot better. I’m really proud of them.”
The match saw a huge performance crom Myah Starr, who collected 13 kills against the Chiefs to help Mt. Pleasant pull out the win. Alex Scott added five kills. Courtney Raub and Addison Peck finished with 11 digs each, and Abby Carthey dished out 17 assists.
“They were coachable today,” Wall said. “We were really making adjustments on the fly today, and I really applaud my girls for making some of those adjustments.”
Mt. Pleasant fell in its second matchup, dropping a showdown with Burlington 26-24, 25-22. However, the Grayhounds finished the conference tournament with just that one win, as did Fort Madison.
Like Mt. Pleasant, Keokuk went 2-3 in the tourney, but the Panthers owned the tiebreaker thanks to the three-set win that started Mt. Pleasant’s day.
Keokuk took fourth overall. Fort Madison was fifth, due to having the tiebreaker over Burlington, a win on Day 1. The Grayhounds had to settle for sixth.