Bison claim Great American Conference volleyball title

Oklahoma Baptist Athletics
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SEARCY, Ark. – It took 505 days, but the fifth-ranked Oklahoma Baptist volleyball team returned to the top of the hill again as it defeated sixth-ranked Harding in straight sets to claim their second consecutive Great American Conference Tournament Championship.

In a battle of Top 10 teams with perfect records, it was déjà vu to the match 505 days ago when the Bison claimed their first GAC title over Harding in straight sets. The only difference this time around is Oklahoma Baptist was able to claim their title at Rhodes-Reaves Fieldhouse, the home of the Bisons. 

For OBU, the 2020-21 season was full of many emotions including doubt and fear with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the fall season and the NCAA Volleyball Championship in the fall. However, it ends with excitement and triumph as the Bison became the second team in GAC volleyball history to complete a perfect season in regular season and tournament play.

Malia Leatherland continued to add accolades to her brilliant career, becoming the first player in GAC Volleyball history to be named a two-time GAC Tournament MVP, earning the honor after the match. Kaylee Buell and Taneyah Brown also earned spots on the All-Tournament Team.

Efficiency continued to be key for the Bison as it has been all season long, finishing with 39 kills to nine errors for an impressive .234 hitting percentage. On the other end, the OBU defense completely shut down one of the top attacks in the GAC as Harding had 38 kills to 25 errors and a .088 hitting percentage.

The Bison held a 72-66 advantage in digs, a 38-35 edge in assists, and dominated in the middle with 18 blocks to only six.

It was an even first set for most of the way as Oklahoma Baptist hung on to a 15-14 lead. OBU would go on from there to outscore Harding 10-6 to close out the set and take a 1-0 lead behind 14 first set kills to only five errors. Leatherland and Brown closed the set with massive kills to win it 25-20.

Leatherland, Brown, Audrey Poupard and Avery Hellmuth put on a clinic to start set two as OBU came out red hot, jumping out to a 14-4 lead. The Bison never looked back, cruising to a 2-0 lead behind a 25-16 victory in the set as they finished with 15 kills to only one error in the set and hitting an unbelievable .412. 

Harding, desperate to ignite their home crowd, gave everything they could in the third set and came away with 14 kills, but OBU forced 10 errors in the set and came away with an efficient 10 kills of its own to put the match away.

The Bison held a narrow 12-11 before Poupard went to work in the middle with a pair of blocks while the Bison attack continued to shine to push the lead all the way out to 21-14. OBU closed the match and took home the title on a kill from Taryn Weber.

Leatherland led the way with 10 kills on .258 hitting while Brown was incredible with nine kills on .529 hitting. Hellmuth added six kills while Poupard had five. Buell was outstanding again with 31 assists.

Defensively, Diana Carranza put together maybe her best match of the season with 25 digs as she constantly had the Bisons attack working as they had 148 attempts on the afternoon. Kelsi Chavez and Buell each added 11 digs while Leatherland had 10. Poupard led the middles with seven block assists while Brown and Buell each had three.

Logan Smith led Harding with nine kills with 17 digs while Libby Hinton added nine kills. 

OBU will compete in the AVCA Invitational in Dallas beginning on Wednesday as the Bison will take on some of the top teams in the country.