November 25, 2019
New Orleans LA — Xavier University of Louisiana, led by four starters hitting a combined .480, finally blew up the door that leads to the NAIA Volleyball National Championship Final Site with a 25-18, 25-20, 25-13 first-round victory Saturday against William Carey at the Convocation Center.
After eight consecutive first-round losses from 2011-18, these Gold Nuggets (31-6) will advance to Sioux City, Iowa, for pool play with 31 other qualifiers the week after Thanksgiving. Next match for XULA will be Dec. 3 — visit https://xulagold.com/news/2019/11/24/vb-naia-pairings-02.aspx for details.
XULA is the first HBCU volleyball program to win a match at NAIA nationals since Saint Augustine's in 1981.
"We knew William Carey would bring their best game at us," third-year XULA coach Pat Kendrick said. "But we brought ours, too. We were grateful for this opportunity."
The Gold Nuggets, unbeaten in four previous meetings against William Carey during Kendrick's tenure, delivered as the favorite. Ema Causevic hit a season-best .550 with 13 kills, three aces, two blocks and six digs. Kayla Black, the two-time Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player and Attacker of the Year, hit .393 with 12 kills, two aces, three blocks and eight digs. Vivica Price-Spraggins, still rolling after winning GCAC Tournament MVP the previous weekend, hit .500 with nine kills and a block. And Maya Smith, one of two freshman starters, hit .500 with five kills and a career-high-tying eight blocks — and the most blocks ever by a Gold Nugget in an NAIA tournament match.
Causevic, Black, Price-Spraggins and Smith combined for 39 kills in 75 attacks with only three errors. XULA, which hit a combined .111 in its previous eight opening-round appearances, hit .385 against William Carey.
XULA limited William Carey to .162 hitting and had advantages of 48-35 in kills, 48-34 in assists, 8-3 in aces, 63-52 in digs and 10-2 in blocks.
Jordan Stephens hit .344 with 13 kills for William Carey (20-20), a fourth-year program making its first appearance at natonals.
XULA never trailed in the first set. William Carey led 7-5 in the second set, then two Dowd kills and a Causevic ace sparked a 5-0 run that put the Gold Nuggets ahead to stay. XULA raced to a 16-4 third-set lead, and Smith's block of Baylee Fairbanks ended the 69-minute match.
"We served well," Kendrick said. "And our blocking defense was very solid. Those two areas fed off of each other. Now we'll see what we can do in Iowa."