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Huskies force decisive game three in thrilling five set comeback win over Axewomen

Huskies force decisive game three in thrilling five set comeback win over Axewomen

HALIFAX, NS – The Saint Mary's Huskies won three straight sets in a thrilling five set (23-25, 20-25, 25-15, 25-9, 15-6) comeback victory over the Acadia Axewomen to force a decisive game three of the Atlantic University Sport women's volleyball championship final.

It was a statement win for the Huskies, who lost the first two sets for the second straight match, and found themselves a set away from the series ending, only to rally back, much to the delight of a sold-out crowd of over 800 fans at the Homburg Centre.

"I'm super proud of everyone, we stuck to our plan, we stuck with each other and really believed in each other, even in the tough moments," said Huskies Player of the Game Madison Hann post-match.

In the first set, the Huskies took an early 5-2 lead, after a pair of kills from right side Megan Bruhm (Hubley, NS). But the Axewomen came storming back with middle Erica Fisher (Middle Stewiacke, NS) and outside hitter Eve Collombin (Victoria, BC), each going on servicing runs, and a block by middle Wesley-Ann Bailey (Ottawa, ON) put them ahead 14-10.

Saint Mary's then went on a four-point run on the service of Megan Bruhm to tie it at 14-14, and for the rest of the set, neither team led by more than two points. An incredible set/save from AUS MVP Olivia Bell (LaHave Islands, NS) helped give the Huskies a slim 22-21 lead, but another block by Bailey, followed by a kill from Alexia Lemay-Evans (Azilda, ON) gave the Axewomen set point, and after a Jenna Lake (Conception Bay South, NL) service error, Bailey finished the set with a kill, giving the Axewomen the 25-23 first set win.

The second set flowed in a similar fashion – Saint Mary's opened up an early 2-1 lead off a Megan Bruhm service ace, but the Axewomen came back to take a lead. With Acadia ahead 14-11, Saint Mary's retook the lead with some great service from Olivia Bell, and several kills from all-star left side Emilia Mikanovich (Minsk, Belarus). A Jenna Lake kill brought the Axewomen back to even at 18-18, and then a pair of kills from Eve Collombin and Erica Fisher brought them to set point, where an error from Huskies setter Taylor Lougheed (Calgary, AB) gave the Axewomen the second set win 25-20, and a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.

With the Axewomen just 25 points away from winning their first AUS Championship in school history, the Huskies dug in and refused to lose on homecourt.

"We trust our coaching, they make the adjustments and we just bought in to being aggressive and trusting each other to do that. We didn't let the game get into our heads, we lost the first two sets but we didn't care, just kept looking forward and that made the difference for us," said Madison Hann post-game.

The third set opened with a pair of Mikanovich kills, giving the Huskies a 2-0 advantage, followed up by a nice service run from Megan Bruhm to extend the lead to 5-1. But the Axewomen seemed energized to come back, cutting the lead to 8-7 off a setter dump from Charlotte Dean (Mississauga, ON). That's when Olivia Bell showed why she was the league MVP, going on a service run, punctuated by an ace to extend the Huskies lead to 12-7, and recording another kill as part of a Huskies 7-2 run, which extended the lead to 15-9. Serving specialist Paige Deering (Calgary, AB) came in and made an impact, earning the Huskies three points off serve including an ace. With Saint Mary's leading 23-15, Hann stepped to the service line and delivered an ace, with middle Alena Piatukhova (Minsk, Belarus) making a big block on the next set to secure the 25-15 win and force a fourth set.

The energy in the Homburg Centre seemed to inspire the Huskies heading into the fourth set, as they came out loose and took an early 5-2 lead off of an ace from Megan Bruhm. Acadia cut it to 5-4, but Saint Mary's went on several huge service runs, with Olivia Bell and Madison Hann adding aces of their own. The Huskies opened up a commanding 23-8 lead, and following a Jenna Lake kill, an Axewomen service error and another big block from Alena Piatukhova finished off the set 25-9, to force a decisive fifth set.

The Huskies continued their momenteum into the first-to-15 fifth set, opening up an early 2-0 lead off of the aggressive service of Hann. A pair of kills from Erica Fisher cut the lead to 3-2, but back-to-back Hann blocks extended the lead to 9-3. Paige Deering once again came on to serve and found success, with her spin serves forcing the Axewomen out of system, and Olivia Bell capitalizing with kills. Focused in the heat of pressure, Bell delivered a backbreaking ace to put the Huskies ahead 12-5.

Acadia won another point, but couldn't handle the service of Madison Hann, who delivered an ace, followed by an assist to Megan Bruhm for the match-winning kill, with the Huskies winning the fifth set 15-6.

Madison Hann was named Player of the Game for the Huskies with 14 points off of eight kills, three service aces and four blocks. Emilia Mikanovich delivered a match-high 15 kills, while Olivia Bell stuffed the stat-sheet with 16.5 points including 13 kills, three aces, two assists and a game-high 20 digs and setter Taylor Lougheed led the match with 37 assists.

Axewomen libero Becky Dorsey (Toronto, ON) was named Player of the Game for Acadia, recording 12 digs but consistently coming up in big moments for her team. Scoring wise, Acadia was led by 16.5 points from Alexia Lemay-Evans and 14.5 points from Jenna Lake, while Charlotte Dean dished out 36 assists.

The AUS Championship will now be decided in game three, Tuesday, March 5 at Stu Aberdeen Court in Wolfville, NS, with first serve slated for 7 p.m.

"I think we keep the same mindset that we have now. We took it one point at a time, whether we were down or up, we remained focused, and that dialed in mentality, no matter if it is good or bad, take it one point at a time and trust each other, that's what we need to do," said Hann on Tuesday's game plan.

Tuesday's match is expected to sell out once again, making it the third straight match of the final that has reached a capacity crowd, something that Hann says has made this series one that players, coaches and fans of both side will never forget.

"It has been truly incredible," continued Hann. "The support we've had, both at home and away, it's been huge for us and huge for women's sports in general. These are the games that when you're a little girl playing sports, you dream of that, you dream of that crowd, and that pressure, and I'm so grateful and I thank everyone for all of the support."

Recap by Allan April / Saint Mary's Huskies Athletics
Photos by Eduardo Ibarra / Saint Mary's Huskies Athletics