CLINTON, Iowa – It's unusual for the team to drop the first two sets in volleyball and come back to win, but it's something that Ashford did twice on Saturday.
The Saints, hosting day two of the Ashford University Saints Invitational Tournament, brought home their own plaque on Saturday after knocking off #23-ranked Bellevue University and Clarke University to emerge as the lone 4-0 team from the event.
In addition, three Ashford University Saints landed on the All-Tournament squad. Sophomore Danielle Tombolato won Most Valuable Player accolades while libero Karrah Toby and middle hitter Morgan Martells also received nods among the tournament's elite players.
"Our girls really responded well this week, especially after the St. Ambrose match last week," said Head Coach Micah Cewe. "We changed some things in practice and the girls really got after it. We wanted to change the season, and it helps to play at home. We definitely showed something different this week."
AU appeared to be outgunned throughout much of the first two sets of Saturday's opener against nationally-ranked Bellevue. But in set three, the Saints overcame an 8-4 deficit and kept the rally going to take a 17-14 lead late in the set. From there, the Saints matched Bellevue point-for-point before taking advantage of BU attack errors near the end of the set to win 25-22.
The Saints were a different looking team going forward and didn't trail during set four, taking a 25-18 tilt to force a fifth set. In the fifth, Ashford kept rolling and pounced out to a 9-5 advantage before taking six of the next seven points to upset #23-ranked Bellevue, 15-6.
"Bellevue is always a solid team, always the class of their league and ranked nationally," continued Cewe. "We didn't start well but you could see our confidence grow throughout the set. We really showed a ‘never give up' mentality to fight off a very tough opponent."
Ashford overcame a 61-52 deficit in kills by doubling up the Bruins in blocks, 12-6, and notching seven service aces to BU's one. Tombolato pounded out 17 kills to go along with seven assisted blocks while Martells added 13 kills against just two attacking errors.
In the finale, Ashford once again started slow against Clarke University but showed the same amount of fight as in Saturday's opener to take down the Crusaders by set scores of 21-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-21 and 15-13.
After losing the first two sets, Ashford was once again trailing in the third, 9-4, before AU flipped the switch. The home squad blasted out on a 12-4 run during the middle portion of the set to take a 16-13 lead, a lead they wouldn't relinquish en route to a 25-20 win.
The Saints never trailed in the fourth before battling through an exciting fifth to win 15-13 and clinch the tournament championship.
"The girls fought all weekend and showed the attitude and coachability we like to see," added Cewe. "We worked for every point and earned four victories. It was exciting to see them begin to buy in to our philosophy as a youthful team."
Tombolato continued her tear with 17 kills and six more assisted blocks while freshman Samantha Magnussen chipped in ten kills.
The Saints were once again bested in the offensive statistics, recording just 44 kills to Clarke's 70, but turned away 15 opponent shots at the net and took advantage of 33 opponent hitting errors.
Senior setter Liz Gbur combined for 50 assists throughout the two matches while Toby combined to dig up 42 opponent shots.
With the weekend sweep, Ashford improves to 10-5 this season.
The Saints return to the road this Tuesday, Sept. 18, when they visit Joliet, Ill. to battle the Fighting Saints of the University of St. Francis. First serve is set for 7 p.m.