All year long, first-year Winthrop volleyball coach Sally Polhamus has been preaching the same sermon -- it's not so much how you start but how you finish.
More times than not, however, the message didn't get across. The result, a 2-9 start for the five-time defending Big South Conference champions.
Saturday night, the Eagles took their coach's words to heart and finished strong to down Georgetown 3-2 in the final match of the Wingate Inn Classic.
The Eagles opened Saturday play by taking the first game against eventual tournament champion Troy, 31-29. But the Eagles dropped the next three 30-26, 30-26, 30-25.
Things didn't get any better in the nightcap when the Hoyas won 30-24.
"I just told them to get back to fundamentals, play our game and build from there," Polhamus said. "That's what we did."
Winthrop took the second game 30-24, but went down 2-1 when the Hoyas prevailed 30-24.
That's when the Eagles seemed to get a second wind and a determination to finish strong.
Winthrop dominated in the fourth game, knotting the score at two with an overpowering 30-15 win. That forced the 15-point tiebreaker.
The Eagles jumped out to a 6-1 lead, but the Hoyas battled back to tie it at 11. Winthrop wouldn't lose another point on the way to finishing second behind Troy in the two-day invitational.
"Finishing off a game is so important, especially against the teams we have played so far," Polhamus said. "We've had some chances."
Middle hitter Shannon Sitzmann, the preseason Big South Conference player of the year, and freshman Pohai Nu'uhiwa paced the Eagles and were named to the all-tournament team. But, Polhamus also cited the play of two freshmen -- Kellie Sellers and Kelsey Hall.
Sitzmann and Sellers had 17 kills each against Georgetown. Hall had 56 assists.
In the morning loss, Sitzmann had 18 kills, while Sellers added 13. Tara Toepke and Kelley Taylor added 10. Once again, Hall put the ball in good position and picked up 50 assists.
Nu'uhiwa had 32 digs against Troy.