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Lady Rams volleyball falls short of SIAC crown

ASU’s Sharme Ridley and the Lady Rams fell one win short of the SIAC ttile. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ASU’s Sharme Ridley and the Lady Rams fell one win short of the SIAC ttile. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY -- After Tuesday's semifinal loss to Kentucky State, the Albany State volleyball team's conference championship hopes hung in the balance.

But after beating Claflin University for the second time Wednesday, the Lady Rams emerged from the losers' bracket and advanced to the SIAC Championship, where redemption was possible.

Redemption, however, never came.

Instead, Albany State had to endure a Kentucky State victory celebration on its home court for the second straight night as they fell, 3-1, in Wednesday's finals to deny ASU the title for the second straight year.

"I guess we just weren't focused enough," a somber Sharme Ridley said. "I just think we didn't do what we needed to do at the time we needed to do it."

The defeat ended the season for Albany State, which finished with a record of 21-16. It also marks the end for four-year senior starter Sabrina Garcia.

"Very defeated," Garcia said when asked what she was feeling after the loss. "I didn't want to go out like this, but, as a team, we need to learn how to finish strong. We (made) a lot of dumb mistakes and we didn't pay attention to the little things."

Albany State head coach Robert Skinner lauded his star player.

"It's going to be hard to replace a player like Garcia," he said.

Kentucky State (23-17) has now won back-to-back SIAC championships -- it snapped ASU's nine-title win streak in 2010 -- and will represent the SIAC at NCAA Regionals.

"I am still in shock after having such a young team," said an emotional Kyetta May, Kentucky State's head coach. "It's been a long, rough ride, but we pulled through so I'm ecstatic."

KSU's Emily Grieshaber, Ashlie Jones and Audrey Sherles all finished with double-digit kills, while Brittany Stewart had a game-high 56 assists.

Jillian Anderson was the only player to reach double figures for the Lady Rams with 17 kills. Garcia had nine kills and Ridley chipped in seven. In typical fashion, Jennifer Johnson led the team in assists with 39.

"I was frustrated with (my performance)," said Garcia, who battled a knee injury throughout the game. "(The injury) caused me not to jump as high as I wanted to jump and I started getting frustrated with that."

Confidence ran high for the Lady Rams after they won the first set, 25-23. But it was short lived when they lost the second set, which was the most competitive with 16 ties and eight lead changes before KSU eventually won, 31-29.

"That (set) slapped the momentum from us and we never got back going," Skinner said. "We just didn't focus and put the ball down when we had opportunities. We gave them too many opportunities and they capitalized on the things we did wrong."

ASU's unravelling continued throughout the match with them losing the third set, 25-22, and the fourth set, 25-15.

"I kept telling my teammates to pick their heads up, put their hearts into it and to fight," Ridley said.

Before Albany State could concern itself with dethroning Kentucky State, they had to get pass Claflin University (28-10) for the second straight day. After losing the first set 25-15, the Lady Rams ran off three straight (25-16, 25-17 and 26-24, respectively).

Garcia recorded 15 kills, while Ridley and Amber Gatlin had 12 each. Ridley led the Lady Rams' defense with 16 digs and Adrienne Morris contributed 12 digs and one assist. Johnson added seven digs.