CHAMPS! Flames Claim First Conference Title in Program History
MILWAUKEE – The UIC volleyball team captured its first Horizon League championship in program history on Sunday (Nov. 21) as the fourth-seeded Flames defeated second-seeded Northern Kentucky in a five-set thriller.
With the victory, the Flames advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history after securing the Horizon League’s automatic berth into the tournament field.
Five Flames finished with 10 or more kills, the first time this season UIC has had five players in double figures. Delucchi and Santiago led the way with 14 each while Becca Oldendorf added 13. Zahria Woodard and Salma Abdelhady rounded out the attack leaders with 10 kills each.
Wafeek dished out a match-high 49 assists while Jaclyn Oblena led the way with a match-leading 25 digs. Santiago chipped in 10 digs of her own, giving the senior her ninth-consecutive double-double.
After dropping the opening set, 25-16, the Flames rallied to take the second and third sets by 25-21 and 25-22 scores, respectively. One set from victory, UIC led the fourth set, 21-19, before five consecutive Norse points put Northern Kentucky a point from forcing a fifth set at 24-21.
The Flames proceeded to fight off three consecutive set point opportunities from NKU as kills from Woodard and Santiago set the stage for a combination block by Oldendorf and Santigo to even things up at 24-all. Tied at 24, Northern Kentucky secured the final two points to claim the 26-24 victory and push the championship match to a fifth and final set.
In the deciding set, UIC raced out to a 9-3 lead and looked to be in position to cruise to the title. An Oldendorf kill paired with a Norse hitting error gave UIC championship point at 14-8. Northern Kentucky mounted a furious comeback, winning six consecutive points (four-straight via Norse blocks) to even the fifth set at 14-all.
Another Oldendorf kill gave the Flames yet another match point at 15-14, but Northern Kentucky snagged the next two points, putting the Norse in front by a 16-15 margin. Facing a match point against them, UIC forced Northern Kentucky into a hitting error to even the score at 16-all. Two more NKU hitting errors would follow, sending the Flames onto the court in celebration.
The Flames learn who they will face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 28. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will begin at 7:30 p.m. (CT) and will be televised on ESPNU.