MONTGOMERY, Ala. - With no hope of post season action to fall back on, Faulkner was looking to cap it's season with a win at home Friday evening. A victory over Belhaven in the Southern States Athletic Conference division matchup would represent only the third league win of the season for the Lady Eagles' and would snap a five game losing streak. The Blazers were relentless however, and secured the win in straight sets 25-22, 25-19, 25-17.
"You never want to end the season with a loss," said head coach Tori Bartels. "Unfortunately, unless you win the national title, that's what eventually happens to every team. We just wish we had earned a shot at the conference tournament, now that's the top goal for next season."
The Lady Eagles finished the year just shy of the .500 mark with an 18-19 record. It's Faulkner's best overall finish in three years, but its 2-12 conference record is the worst in over a decade.
"Are primary goal is to be more competitive in conference play," Bartels added. "Since the expansion of the SSAC our recored there has slowly declined as the level of competition has become stronger. It doesn't matter how great you start a season or what non-conference teams you beat, if you don't win the meat of your schedule you're going to suffer the consequences."
SSAC teams are among the best they've been in recent memory. At the close of the regular season Lee still holds the No. 4 spot in the NAIA Top 25 Poll. Spring Hill is the only undefeated program left in the nation and ranks 19th overall and a recent surge in action from Shorter has catapulted it into the receiving votes pool.
Faulkner was armed with one of its most talented teams to date and started the season with a program best 9-0 run. The Lady Eagles' tempo slowed as conference play approached however, and after the midway mark, it seemed that it was becoming difficult to find the same competitive edge they had at the dawn of the season.
Friday's match with Belhaven was more of the same. The Lady Eagles fell behind early, but clawed back to gain the lead just over halfway through the opening set. Belhaven made fewer errors however, and held on for the win.
After the loss in set one, the fire seemed to fade. Despite a packed house and plenty of fan support, the home team failed to find much of a rhythm and when they did connect the dots, they were too scattered to do much damage.
Neysa Hernandez led the offense in kills with nine and had 16 digs on the night.
Autumn Benson was the most efficient hitter for the Lady Eagles boasting a hitting percentage of .462, while putting away seven kills.
Morgan Wilson had 12 assists for the home team followed by KK Lo with 10.
Faulkner bid farewell two four seniors in a special ceremony following play. Hernandez, Melvin, Meg Beasley and Jessica Long were all honored by their coaches and teammates for the hard work and dedication they have shown the program over the years. Hernandez and Melvin were both four year starters for the team, while Long and Beasley joined as transfers their junior seasons.
"It was a good year," Bartels concluded. "It's not the way we wanted things to go for sure, but it was a good year. We did a lot of great things and saw a lot out of our younger players and that's very encouraging. We will start recruiting in the next couple of weeks, but we have a strong foundation on which to build and that makes finding the missing pieces a little easier. We can't replace the seniors as individuals, we'd never try. But we have to bring in the next group that will change the way we look at the game and maximize our potential. I can't wait to see what the future holds."