PENSACOLA, FL - Florida Southern College volleyball battled back from a first set loss to continue its historic run and advance to the NCAA Division II Championship match with a 3-2 win over seventh-seeded Gannon on Friday evening at UWF Field House. The No. 21 Moccasins (30-6) used a dominant second set to regain momentum and won the third set before the Golden Knights (32-7) forced a decisive fifth set, which saw the Mocs rally from a three-point deficit to earn their 23rd win in a row.
Florida Southern will face either top-seeded Concordia-St. Paul or fifth-seeded Rockhurst in the National Championship match at 6 p.m. (ET) on Saturday at UWF Field House. The Moccasins will be making their first-ever appearance in a national title contest. Fans can watch live or follow live stats by visiting NCAA.com.
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Florida Southern got off to a sluggish start in the first set as Gannon used a 9-1 run to turn a 2-2 deadlock into an 11-3 lead. The Moccasins, who were nearly flawless in Thursday's quarterfinal win over Cal State San Bernardino, committed a slew of uncharacteristic early errors in the first set to help fuel the Golden Knights. FSC was able to close the gap to four (11-7) with a quick run of its own, but never really threatened as Gannon took the first set by a 25-16 final.
• The tables turned in the second set as the Moccasins came out on fire. Six-straight points by Florida Southern turned a 3-2 edge into a sizeable 9-2 lead, and the rout was on. The Mocs never led by less than five points for the remainder of the set en route to a 25-15 victory. The Golden Knights committed several early errors that helped set the tone, and Florida Southern took full advantage. Five of the Moccasins six points during their early scoring run came via errors by Gannon. A 4-0 run later in the set was fueled by two kills from Nicole Mattson, a kill from Allie Geary, and a service ace from Annie Collins. The scoring run helped the Moccasins jump out to a 14-5 lead and the Golden Knights never got close.
• The third set was one of the best of the night, as the Mocs pulled out a 25-23 victory to put Gannon up against the wall. The Golden Knights had the early advantage with an 8-5 lead, but the deficit was quickly erased when Florida Southern struck for six points in a row to make it 11-8. FSC would hold the lead until Gannon responded with five-straight points later in the set to take a 16-14 edge and the Golden Knights looked to be in the driver's seat with a 19-15 lead in the late stages. However, the Moccasins never gave up and used a 4-0 run to tie things at 22-22. Gannon scored the next point to make it 23-22, but Florida Southern put the nail in the coffin with three-straight points, ending the set on back-to-back kills by Anna Tovo.
• In the fourth set, both squads treated fans to a back-and-forth battle in the early stages until Gannon hit a scoring run to take a 13-9 lead. Trailing by four (21-17) in the late stages of the set, the Mocs rallied for five-straight points to take a 22-21 lead. The Golden Knights got back in front and had set-point at 24-23, but a service error gave the Mocs new life. It would be short-lived, however, as Gannon scored the next two points to force a fifth and final set.
• Florida Southern looked as if its dream season might come to an end when the Golden Knights jumped out to a 6-3 lead, but once again the Moccasins came back on the strength of a 3-0 run to tie things up. After Gannon took an 8-7 lead and the teams switched sides of the floor the Mocs took charge, scoring six of the next seven points to take a 13-9 lead. Clinging to a 14-12 edge after the Golden Knights scored two in a row, Sydney Marshall sent the Moccasins to the national title match with her 17th kill of the night to give Florida Southern a 3-2 victory.
• Marshall finished with a team-best 17 kills while finishing with six block assists and five digs. Tovo tallied 14 kills and 22 digs while Mattson finished with 10 kills and 24 digs, and Rachael Martin tallied 10 kills. Allie Geary finished with nine block assists, and Gabby Fresh chipped in on defense with 17 digs. Florida Southern finished with a 14-7 edge in blocks.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern improved to 4-2 all-time against Gannon, and moved to 30-33 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. With their victory on Friday, the Moccasins can finish no worse than second nationally, the best finish in school history. The victory was Florida Southern's 23rd in a row, the second-best in school history behind only the 1990 squad that won 33 in a row. Friday's win was also the 396th for head coach Jill Stephens in her 17 seasons at the helm of the program. Florida Southern's 30 wins this year are the highest total since 2006, when the Moccasins won 31 matches. The Mocs have won at least 30 matches 16 times in their volleyball history.
• Mattson increased her season kill total to 532, and now holds the 10th-best single-season total in program history. Tovo improved her career kill total to 1,603, fourth-most in school history, and recorded double-digit digs for the 23rd time this year. Geary improved her career block total to 388 and ranks sixth in school history in blocks.
• Florida Southern College has now had at least one of its athletic teams advance to an NCAA Division II championship in each of the past four seasons. The Moccasins won the men's basketball national title in 2014-15, took home the women's lacrosse championship in 2016, and won the men's golf title in 2017. The women's lacrosse team also finished as the national runner-up a year ago. A win by the Mocs on Saturday would be the 31st national championship in Florida Southern history, the first for volleyball, and the fourth-straight season in which FSC has taken home a national title.
• Florida Southern will face either top-seeded Concordia-St. Paul or fifth-seeded Rockhurst at 6 p.m. (ET) in the national title match. Fans can catch all the action live by visiting NCAA.com.