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TU finishes conference undefeated

With a 3-1 win over UNC-Wilmington Friday night and a 3-1 win over William & Mary Saturday night, Towson finished the regular season undefeated in Colonial Athletic Association play.

“It’s really cool. It’s a very rare thing,” co-captain junior outside hitter Katy Buck said. “I don’t know when the last time someone went undefeated in this conference is.”

The Tigers (25-3, 12-0 CAA) were almost overpowered by the Tribe (13-13, 5-7 CAA) in the first set but were able to come back to win it 25-17.

The second set followed the same pattern, but Towson wasn’t able to overpower William & Mary and fell 26-24.

After that, Towson took the last two sets 25-21 and 25-19 for its 17th straight win.

“I thought that the team showed a lot of resiliency,” Head Coach Bruce Atkinson said. “We had times where our backs were to the wall and I think we responded well. Offensively, Katy picked a great night to step up and I thought that blocking was the best we’ve done all year.”

In the beginning of the first set, the Tigers lost junior outside hitter Dayane Van Ass after she fell and injured her knee.

Senior setter Evan Schulz took Van Ass’s place.

“Evan likes to swing. She hasn’t practiced it a whole lot, but she likes to,” Atkinson said. “We mentioned to her prior to the start of the match even though she’s a senior, we weren’t going to start her because we felt like she’d be going in on either the outside or the inside. I thought she did a really nice job.”

This was a similar injury to Friday night when junior middle blocker I’ishah Keliikoa went down injuring her right knee. Keliikoa went down in the middle of the third set. She had eight kills on 13 attacks, hitting .615.

Keliikoa did not play during Saturday night’s game.

Buck set a new career high in kills in a match with 23. Her previous record was 21. She also recorded her 10th “double-double” with 10 additional digs.

“We’ve always felt that Katy could perform like that on any given night,” Atkinson said. “If we’re in a situation where we have to have her do this, we’re actually weaker as a team. It was absolutely great that she was able to help us pull one out tonight.”

Before the game, the team honored its seven graduating seniors: Keliikoa, Schulz, Aubrey Kirven, Alysha McCreary, Marta Machos, Karolina Sawaniewicz and Stacey Niehoff.

Buck said that the best part of the season was that the team worked as a whole and came out strong.

“There was no one that couldn’t have the high for the night and there was no one that was the weak link this year,” she said. “It was so amazing to play on a team like that.”

Niehoff has been with the team since her freshman season, so being able to complete an undefeated season and make it to the semifinal round of the CAA Championship is a big feat.

“It’s been incredible this season,” she said. “Especially coming in my freshman season, we had a losing record, and just the transformation that Bruce has made with this program is incredible.”

By clinching the CAA, the Tigers have earned a bye in the first round of the CAA Championship tournament, to be held at Towson Nov. 16-18.

“We’ll put in a strong week of work, but we’re going to be fired up, we’re going to be ready to go,” Buck said.

Towson’s first game will be on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. The team will play the winner of the Hofstra vs. William & Mary game from the day before.

Niehoff said the team had an idea from the start that this might be the season it goes the distance.

“After last year, we only lost one player, Susan Gansor, so we pretty much had the same team and we were all really excited and we knew if we put in the work, we could do well,” she said. “It’s all coming together nicely and hopefully it keeps going.”

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