ALBANY — For the second straight year, Clark Atlanta ended Albany State’s volleyball season in dramatic fashion.
One year after Clark Atlanta beat ASU in a five-set thriller in the 2012 SIAC championship game, the Lady Panthers shocked the Lady Rams again on Thursday with a five-set victory to upset No. 2 seed Albany State.
The Lady Rams’ loss came on the heels of a loss earlier in the day to Kentucky State that dropped them into the loser’s bracket — where they would have had to win five straight games in two days to claim an SIAC title.
ASU won its opener in the loser’s bracket to Tuskegee Thursday afternoon, but then lost to Clark (25-14, 20-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-10) two hours later.
“It wasn’t surprising simply because the way my team approached the game (against Kentucky State) earlier in the morning,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said about the loss to No. 3 seed Clark Atlanta. “That set the tone for the rest of the day.”
In the second-round game against Kentucky State, the Lady Rams lost in straight sets (25-20, 25-20, 25-22) and also lost junior hitter Jennifer Evans to a possible ACL injury.
The Lady Rams were able to overcome Evans’ injury and a knee injury that sidelined middle hitter Amber Gatling during a 3-1 win against Tuskegee, but the absence of the two regular starters hurt ASU against reigning SIAC champ Clark Atlanta.
“We just didn’t have the cohesiveness from the girls who were on the court,” Skinner said.
The loss dropped the Lady Rams to 17-13 overall, ending a season that Skinner said was one of the most difficult he has had in his 22 years at ASU.
“This season tested my ability to bring a team together and my ability to coach young people again that are coming from different backgrounds and not focused on what my goals were at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I really believed I had sold them on my system and what we were trying to this season, and I really believed we could have won this if we would have stayed focused (Thursday).”
After winning nine straight SIAC titles from 2001-09, the Lady Rams have now lost four straight.
Thursday’s elimination was one Skinner saw coming after his players got swept by Kentucky State earlier in the day.
“At this level you have to remain focused and have to remain in character,” he said. “You can’t get out of character at this point of the season.”