FMU women’s volleyball wins Conference Carolinas title, now NCAA tournament bound


BRISTOL, TN – Senior middleblocker Iyanla Thigpen registered four kills late in the fifth set to help lift Francis Marion University to a wild 25-17, 25-21, 20-25, 18-25, 15-10 victory over North Greenville University, Saturday afternoon (Nov. 20) in the championship match of the 2021 Conference Carolinas Women’s Volleyball Tournament.

Francis Marion improves to 21-10, equaling the most wins in 13 seasons, and wins the conference tournament in its first year as a member.  The Patriots earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament and will find out their schedule when the field is announced on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. 

This will be the Patriots’ fourth-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, joining the 1998, 2005, and 2008 squads.

Thigpen finished with 12 kills on only 22 swings with a .409 hitting percentage and three blocks.  She was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Graduate student Kayla Arthur led FMU with a season-high 16 kills, a .387 hitting percentage, and a team-best four blocks.  The Holly Springs, N.C., native is now only 16 kills shy of 1000 for her career.  Junior Gracie Davis, an All-Tournament Team selection,  added 16 kills, while sophomore Lexi Albright posted her ninth double-double of the season with 10 kills and 15 digs.

Sophomore setter Kaylee Gillespie handed out a season-high 49 assists, served two aces, and was also named to the All-Tournament Team. Freshman libero Zoie Larkins dug up 14 balls.

Abigail Durham paced North Greenville (21-9) with 13 kills.  The Crusaders were the top seed from the West Division, while the Patriots were the top seed from the East and had beaten NGU 3-0 on the Crusaders’ home court during the regular season.

In the deciding fifth set, a pair of Crusader attacking errors gave FMU a 2-0 advantage.  It was the first Patriot lead since the end of the second set.  NGU responded with four straight points, only to have Francis Marion answer with three in a row to lead 5-4.  Trailing 6-5, Albright pounded out two kills sandwiched around an NGU attack error to put FMU up 8-6.

After the Crusaders drew within 8-7, Thigpen recorded three straight kills (with help from Gillespie) and graduate student Naina Ivanova served an ace to give Francis Marion a 12-7 advantage.  After a brief 3-1 North Greenville rally, Thigpen and Davis closed out the match with kills setting off a celebration on the spiking line.

The Patriots scored the opening two points of the match – kills by Arthur and Davis – and never trailed in the first set.  That first margin quickly became 7-2, then 13-5, and eventually 18-8 following a service ace by Gillespie.  Davis ended the set with a kill for the 25-17 win.

In the second set, NGU ran off the first three points, but FMU quickly responded.  Trailing 5-4, the Patriots scored five consecutive points, including a pair of aces from Arthur, to go on top 9-5.  The advantage grew to 11-7 and later 22-17, before clinching the set on a Crusader attacking error.

North Greenville never trailed in winning the third set.  FMU stayed closed and closed a seven-point deficit to 22-19 and then 23-20, but could not complete the comeback. 

Likewise in the fourth set, the Crusaders did not trail in winning 25-18 and forcing the fifth set.

Francis Marion Univ. def. North Greenville 25-17,25-21,20-25,18-25,15-10

North Greenville (21-9,14-4 Conference) (Kills-aces-blocks) – Durham,

Abigail 13-0-2; Allen, Erin 12-1-0; Davis, Kelli 9-0-1; Beisecker,

Paige 9-1-4; Thomas, Kasie 7-0-1; Allen, Emilie 4-0-0; McClure,

Katherine 0-1-0; Kahler, Whitley 0-1-0; Pyke, Abby 0-3-0; Conner,

Ashlyn 0-0-1; Totals 54-7-5.0. (Assists) – Conner, Ashlyn 28; Pyke,

Abby 19. (Dig leaders) – Kahler, Whitley 12; McClure, Katherine 9;

Allen, Erin 8

Francis Marion Univ. (21-10,15-2 Conferenc) (Kills-aces-blocks) –

Kayla Arthur 16-0-4; Gracie Davis 16-0-0; Iyanla Thigpen 12-0-3; Lexi

Albright 10-2-1; Madeline Winning 2-0-0; Alyssa Hansen 1-0-0; Kaylee

Gillespie 1-2-0; Lily Walton 1-0-4; Naina Ivanova 0-2-0; Peyton Holley

0-1-0; Totals 59-7-6.5. (Assists) – Kaylee Gillespie 49. (Dig leaders)

– Lexi Albright 15; Zoie Larkins 14; Peyton Holley 12; Kaylee

Gillespie 8

Courtesy – FMU Patriot Athletics

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