The Santa Fe Saints volleyball team pulled off a major upset to make it to the Final Four of the NJCAA Volleyball Championships Thursday night.
The first day of the tournament included both the first and second rounds of play. The losing teams get to continue to play in a consolation bracket, but the Saints have steered clear of playing for a consolation prize. Santa Fe came into the tournament as the eight seed and faced ninth seeded Arizona Western in the first round. That match went to the Saints in four sets. After being tied at a set apiece, Santa Fe was able to pull away in the third to go up 2-1. The fourth set went back and forth, but the Saints scored six of the final eight points to get them to the second round against top ranked Panola College.
A mere four and half hours later, the Saints were forced to make a quick turnaround and face the top seed of the tournament. Santa Fe truly was the underdog of this match, but key scouting by an assistant coach helped the team form a strong game plan. The first set of the match went to Panola 25-22. The next two sets were close matches that both ended with a score of 25-23, the wins going to Santa Fe. In the fourth set, the Saints found their rhythm and captured the biggest upset of the tournament with a 25-21 win.
SAINTS WIN!!!! SF has knocked off the #1 team @PanolaCollege in four sets. Advance to Final Four against Miami Dade on Friday at 8:30pm EST pic.twitter.com/rptqf7NDM4
— Santa Fe Saints (@SF_Athletics) November 18, 2016
Saints coach Nick Cheronis has described his team’s run in the playoffs as a true David and Goliath story. This is Cheronis’ third year at the helm of the Santa Fe Saints and this year is the program’s first ever appearance in the NJCAA tournament. Cheronis has coached many successful volleyball teams at every level, so his experience has been vital to this young, inexperienced team.
The next match for the Saints will be Friday night against Miami-Dade, a familiar opponent for Santa Fe. This will be the third time these teams will face each other this season. Both matches resulted in straight set wins for Miami-Dade. The most recent match up was in the FCSAA championship game just two weeks ago. Although the Saints have yet to find a way to defeat their regional foe, Cheronis says their familiarity with the team should help them in their preparation for their semifinal matchup. He also thinks that the team’s most recent successes should give them confidence as they face a familiar opponent in an unfamiliar setting.
The winner between Santa Fe and Miami-Dade will play in the championship match on Saturday night against either Iowa Western or Polk State. Polk State is located in Winter Haven, Florida which makes three of the four teams in the final four from the State of Florida.
Santa Fe’s semifinal match will be Friday night at 8:30 p.m. The game can be viewed on a live stream on njcaatv.com.