COSTA MESA, Calif. – To put it simply, Vanguard's block is dominant. On Tuesday, the block was so absolutely and utterly dominant that it needed its own zip code, preferably starting with the number two, as the Pride and the block handed the nation's No. 2 squad, Concordia (Calif.) (20-2, 10-1 GSAC), its first Golden State Athletic Conference set-back in three years (42-1) and just its third loss since the 2011 NAIA National Championship on December 3rd, 2011. The Lions (19-6, 7-4 GSAC) won the five-set thriller at home in front of a captivated crowd, 23-25, 25-19, 25-23, 21-25, 15-10.
NAIA No. 1 University of Texas at Brownsville is the only other team to have defeated Concordia during its 58-3 stretch. The Eagles boasted a 55-match winning streak between the two UTAB losses. The first occurred in the 2011 title match, and the second came at Texas-Brownsville on October 19th, 2013.
In Tuesday's match-up, however, Vanguard was the aggressor, out-blocking, out-hustling and generally out-playing Concordia as the Lions willed their way to victory in The Pit.
"I am just so proud of this team," head coach Eryn Leja said. "Not a lot of words can do justice to how I feel about this win, but we definitely fought with all we had and survived against the defending national champions. We came in with no expectations after Saturday's match, and knew that we had nothing to lose and everything to gain if we really stepped up to one of the biggest challenges in the NAIA. It's truly a special moment for myself and our assistant coaches. Watching our team's heart come through tonight's match was priceless. Our freshmen were almost flawless tonight and I have to commend them for stepping up to this huge win. This win means a lot to us all, and I am just very, very proud."
The opening set between the Lions and Eagles featured six tie scores and four lead changes. Concordia notched the evening's initial point and held a slight advantage until a Concordia error brought the frame to even at 9-all. The Pride took its first lead at 10-9 via a Sarah McKinny (Santa Barbara, Calif.) putdown.
A Lions' service error gave the Eagles a 15-13 edge but Vanguard won a battle at the net to regain the serve at 15-14 and sophomore Charlotte Heerlyn (Santee, Calif.) brought it back to even with a smash on the following possession.
A block by Neves and Flores gave the Pride a 17-16 advantage and an ensuing Eagles' hitting error forced a Concordia timeout.
The two teams traded points next, but Concordia responded with three in a row to take the lead back at 21-20, resulting in a Lions' timeout.
The Eagles remained hot out of the break, converting on the next four to bring the set to game-point.
Neves tipped for a kill to give Vanguard 21, followed by consecutive kills from Heerlyn and freshman Jessica Chase (Riverside, Calif.) but Concordia's Le Mi finally ended the 25-23 battle with a well-placed kill in the middle.
The Lions had four team blocks in the set.
Vanguard opened the second frame hot. Sophomores Rachael Barker (Torrance, Calif.) and Carla Cantarella (Huntington Beach, Calif.) teamed up for Vanguard's first four points of the frame and the Vanguard block grounded Eagles left, right, and middle, while Ashli Bellinger (Chandler, Ariz.) held serve to put the Lions up 8-0.
Concordia upped its intensity to bridge the gap with a 10-5 run, but could not limit mistakes, making back-to-back errors to give Vanguard control at 15-10.
Bellinger finally got the serve back after a full rotation and aced the Eagles at 17-12 and McKinny hit through the Eagles' biggest blocker to add an 18th to Vanguard's tally.
An Eagles' timeout brought about two points for Concordia, but a long rally went Vanguard's way after Barker jumped over the Concordia block and hit the ball straight down into the hardwood to give Vanguard 21.
Sophomore Stephanie Flores (Yucaipa, Calif.) shut it down at the net with a block to garner Vanguard's 23rd point, Neves tallied the 24th with a kill and an Eagles' mishap gave Vanguard the big 25-19 win to tie the match at 1-1.
Concordia put up two points to open the third, but the confident Lions could not be phased, going on a 7-1 run, and causing another timeout by Concordia head coach Trevor Johnson.
Flores insulted her Eagle counterpart with a monster rejection to bring the score to 8-4 and Vanguard got another from Flores and Neves to bolster the Pride's lead at 9-4.
A 6-0 run went to Concordia's way to give the Eagles the lead next, but once again the Vanguard block proved effective, breaking the momentum to deadlock the set at 10-10.
Vanguard and Concordia teeter-tottered again, until Concordia pulled away slightly at 23-20 on a kill from Reanna Schelhaas.
The Lions had different ideas for the trajectory of the set, however, and would not relent, scoring five in a row to come up with the 25-23 come-from-behind shocker.
The block was particularly efficient in the third to the tune of five total team stuffs. McKinny, Chase, Flores and Neves each compiled two block assists in the frame. Flores also added a solo stuff to the Lions' mix.
The fourth finally saw Concordia play with a little bit of desperation, clearly not accustomed to being down in a match.
The set saw three ties and a lead change.
Vanguard had plenty of impressive moments, despite falling 25-21 in the frame. Perhaps none more memorable than Bellinger sprinting to reach a ball that looked entirely out of reach before plowing through fans and diving into the crowd to save a ball that eventually led to an Eagles' attack error and Vanguard's 14th point.
Two plays following Bellinger's miracle save, Barker slammed another ball into the floor to bring the Blue and Gold within a pair at 17-15.
Another play for the highlight reel took place late in frame with Vanguard down five (21-16), as Vanguard's freshman setter, Myranda Cunningham (Irvine, Calif.) tip-set Flores to swing momentum in the Lions' direction. Chase put the hurt on a ball next to bring it within three (21-18), and the larger-than-life Vanguard block completely prevented Concordia from getting the ball over the net, despite its best efforts, to close the margin at 21-19.
Concordia grabbed its 22nd point with a kill, but a Cunningham and Neves combo came right back at the Eagles to make it 22-20.
A Vanguard overpass gave Concordia a break at 24-21 and the 2012 national champions took advantage of the opportunity, hitting off of the block to claim the fourth 25-21.
Vanguard got two quick points in the deciding frame, but Concordia matched the effort on the next two to tie it up. The GSAC rivals traded points before Vanguard took three straight, but the Lions left the door open and Concordia responded to the invitation with two of its own.
The Pride got to eight first courtesy of its beastly block (Neves and Flores). And then Vanguard got to nine, in the same fashion.
At 10-7, a debacle ensued and the match, which was moving in full-force in the Lions' direction, stalled, as the referee questioned Concordia's rotation.
When play finally resumed, Chase hit off of the Concordia block for a kill and Neves sank a tip-kill courtesy of Cantarella to give Vanguard a 12-8 edge.
Chase putdown another on the following possession, which was matched by Concordia's Maddy Ekis on the next play, but Chase showed no fear, garnering her 13th kill of the night to put the Blue and Gold within a point of victory.
Concordia managed one more in the frame, but could not finish as Vanguard claimed the 15-10 win on a kill from Heerlyn.
Chase's 13 putdowns were a Vanguard team-high, followed by Barker, who notched 12 for the Lions. Neves and McKinny finished with nine apiece, while Heerlyn and Flores tacked on eight and seven, respectively.
Cantarella dished 27 assists and registered 18 digs in the historic win. Cunningham recorded 19 assists and five digs for the Pride.
The Vanguard back-line was excellent in the match. Junior libero Kelly Heenan (Costa Mesa, Calif.) shelled out eight assists and led the way defensively, per usual, with 21 digs. Bellinger posted 16 digs and a service ace, while freshman Morgan Haner (Long Beach, Calif.) became the fourth Vanguard player with double-digits in the dig column, securing 12.
Freshman Rebekah Shouse (Los Alamitos, Calif.) aced the Eagles twice in the affair.
Neves and Flores amassed six block assists each and combined for three solo stuffs (Flores, 2; Neves, 1) in the competition. Vanguard out-blocked its NAIA-powerhouse opponent 14 to 3 on the night, managing 18 block assists and five solos through five frames.
There were 20 total ties and 10 lead changes in the competitive GSAC duel.
Vanguard also beat No. 11 The Master's College on Tuesday in five (25-21, 22-25, 16-25, 25-21, 15-10).