When the Towson volleyball team captured its third consecutive Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship a year ago, the players helped design a ring celebrating the achievement that even coach Don Metil admitted was “a little bit over the top.”
So in the aftermath of the top-seeded Tigers’ fourth straight conference title thanks to a 25-15, 25-21, 25-22 rout of No. 3 seed Delaware on Saturday night at SECU Arena, what will the players concoct next?
“This year, we may have to go to belts or something,” Metil conceded. “They just get bigger and bigger.”
Quipped senior middle blocker Lydia Wiers: “It’s going to be massive this year.”
The tribute might be warranted. With the victory, Towson improved to 29-1 and ran its winning streak to 11 matches in a row. The program also became the third school in CAA history to win at least four consecutive league championships, joining William & Mary’s run of seven from 1985 to 1991 and George Mason’s streak of five from 1992 to 1996.
Before the streak began in 2019, the Tigers had collected only one title in 2004 and had made only one other appearance in the CAA Tournament final in 2005.
Towson’s dominance was a season-long effort. This fall, the team won 18 matches in straight sets, was extended to five sets just three times, and dropped a total of 16 sets.
Some players were still absorbing the accomplishment after the title game.
“I don’t think it’s really set in for me yet, the magnitude of what we’ve achieved in our four years here,” senior setter Katie McCracken said. “It’s just a great feeling, and we’ve all worked so hard for it, and I think we deserve it.”
McCracken, Wiers, defensive specialist Asia Goins, and outside hitter Morgan Wilson have never experienced a season without a CAA title. And the only year graduate student outside hitter Fay Bakodimou didn’t enjoy similar success was her first one in 2018.
Wiers credited the program’s culture with keeping the players on the same page.
“It’s always a different team chemistry because you have so many different personalities coming in,” she said. “We lost a lot of people last year with our seniors. So then we gained a lot of people this year, and a lot of fun, new personalities and fun friendships were made. I think we’re able to do the same thing. Having such a strong offense and defense, you don’t have to focus too much on one person because any of us can showcase what we’ve got. So I think they’re all fun.”
After last season’s squad outlasted Elon, 3-2, for the crown, Wiers admitted that the seniors had discussed going 4-for-4. That scenario was not lost on their younger teammates such as sophomore outside hitter Victoria Barrett.
“It was something we talked about, but I think we also felt a lot of pressure by it because we don’t want to be the one class where they don’t get the championship and it’s their senior year,” she said. “Obviously, they’ve been here for a while, and they’re good enough to win three in a row. So why not four? We just had to make sure that we were capable of playing under that kind of pressure, and I think we did well.”
Barrett noted how the seniors set the tone over the summer during open gym sessions without the coaches’ supervision. She said mistakes made during the players-only sessions were punished with runs just as they would have been during official team practices.
That consistency showed in the postseason. The Tigers dropped just one set in three tournament matches, and Saturday’s outcome was the third time in the last four years that the program swept the title game.
Towson never trailed Delaware in the first set, and the score was tied just once. In the second set, they overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 and did not trail again. In the final set, the Blue Hens took leads of 10-8, 15-13 and 19-18, but the Tigers climbed out of each hole, closing out the match by winning seven of the last 10 points.
Metil might have invited some second-guessing with his decision to continue to go with junior setter Trinity Burge over freshman Sarah Jordan, who had 521 assists before sitting out the last five matches due to an unspecified injury. But Burge compiled 15 assists and six digs to complement McCracken’s 23 assists, three digs and three service aces — much to Metil’s delight.
“Sarah Jordan had the green light to play today, and some people might not understand some of the decisions that we made,” he said. “But we had some chemistry and some belief and some rallying around her. We wanted to show Trinity that we were behind her as a staff.”
Barrett was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Performer after matching a season high with 16 kills, committing only three errors and hitting .500 in the title game. For the tournament, she racked up 47 kills on a .380 hitting percentage and 30 digs.
Barrett was joined on the All-Tournament team by junior outside hitter Nina Cajic and junior middle blocker Aayinde Smith.
Towson can now afford to sit back and wait for the field for the NCAA Tournament to be announced Nov. 27. The team advanced to the second round of the 2019 tournament before exiting in the first round in spring and fall of 2021. Wiers said the Tigers’ four-set upset of then-No. 7 Pittsburgh on Sept. 10 should provide them with all the confidence they need to make a deep run in the postseason.
“I think we can use our win against Pitt to know that we’re capable of playing more than just CAA teams,” she said. “I think using that and using the run that we’ve had in the CAA, we can do it and use that confidence.”