GAC Tournament Champs: Suns Outlast HU

Rarely have two teams been as evenly matched as the 2011 volleyball teams at Arkansas Tech University and Harding University. Equally rare is the poise under pressure demonstrated by the Golden Suns in their three meetings with the Lady Bisons this season.

Arkansas Tech (35-3) defeated Harding 20-25, 25-17, 25-16, 25-27, 15-11 at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Saturday night to claim the inaugural Great American Conference Volleyball Tournament championship.

All three of the matches between the Golden Suns and the Lady Bisons this season went the maximum of five sets. Arkansas Tech won all three.

The victory gave the Golden Suns a clean sweep of the GAC this season. Arkansas Tech won the league’s regular season conference title with an unblemished mark of 16-0.

And now the 2011 regular season and postseason GAC volleyball trophies will be able to rest beside each other for eternity in the Tucker Coliseum trophy case.

The Golden Suns improved to 5-1 in five-set matches this season with the victory. Arkansas Tech has won 25 consecutive home matches and 18 straight matches overall.

Tech’s Laura Farney and Amber Cerrillos both notched double-doubles in the championship match. Farney had 20 kills and 17 digs, while Cerrillos made 64 assists and 15 digs.

Kelly O’Malley recorded 17 kills and Sara Motsinger had 14 kills for the Golden Suns. Brennae Benda made 20 digs for Arkansas Tech, which finished with a 96-78 edge in team digs.

Taylor Brown (19 digs) and Marcela Mascarenhas (12 digs) joined Farney, Cerrillos and Benda to give the Golden Suns five players with double figures in digs in the final.

Thabata Galvao was credited with 11 kills, while Brittany Ryan made nine kills and four blocks for Tech.

Benda was named the tournament most valuable player. Farney and Galvao were named to the all-tournament team.

Mollie Arnold registered 20 kills and 12 digs for the Lady Bisons, who finished their season with an overall record of 25-8.

The Golden Suns must now wait until Sunday night to learn their fate in terms of the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Arkansas Tech was ranked No. 7 in this week’s NCAA Division II South Central Region rankings. Eight teams will be invited to participate in the NCAA Division II South Central Regional next weekend.

The GAC champion does not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament this year because it is a new conference, so the Golden Suns must receive one of five at-large bids into the regional in order to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000.

Visit on Sunday night for more information about the NCAA Division II Tournament selections.

Click here to learn more about Arkansas Tech volleyball.