Bears to Face Juniata College in 2009 National Championship
University Heights, Ohio, November 20, 2009 – With its season on the brink, the No. 4 Washington University in St. Louis volleyball team overcame a 2-1 deficit to come back and defeat No. 6 Hope College, 3-2 (25-21, 22-25, 15-25, 27-25, 15-12), in the 2009 NCAA Division III semifinals on Friday, Nov. 20, at the DeCarlo Varsity Center in University Heights, Ohio. Senior middle hitter Erin Albers paced Washington U. with a career-high 25 kills, 11 of which came in the decisive final two sets.
Washington U. secures a berth in the NCAA Division III Championship match, where it will face No. 1 Juniata College on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. It will be the fifth time that Washington University and Juniata have met to decide the NCAA Division III Championships, with the two schools splitting the previous four meetings. Juniata prevailed, 3-2, in the last national championship matchup in 2006.
Washington University is appearing in its 14th NCAA Division III championship match, and the Bears are 9-4 all-time in NCAA title tilts, winning an NCAA-record nine national titles. Washington U. won its last national championship in 2007, a 3-2 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Bloomington, Ill. It is the sixth time WU head coach Rich Luenmann has coached his team to the national title match, and he holds a 2-3 record in the previous five appearances.
The Bears, who were facing Hope College for the first time in NCAA Championship competition, now lead the all-time series with the Dutch, 6-1. Washington U. also exacts revenge from a loss suffered earlier this season; Hope College earned a 3-1 win at Washington University on Sept. 5. Hope, which was making the first appearance in the NCAA semifinals in school history, ends its season with a 34-4 overall mark.
With their backs to the wall, the Bears dug deep to overcome a five-point deficit in the fourth set and win a nail biter in extra points. A 12-6 scoring run pulled Washington U. back into the match, as it was trailing 10-5, and came all the way back to take a 17-16 lead on a Cassidy Bulthuis attacking error.
From that point forward neither team led by more than one until the Bears clinched the hard fought win. Hope College was the first to gain a late advantage, as the Dutch led 23-22 when Kara VandeGuchte blocked Albers for a point, but WU freshman setter Marilee Fisher set the Red and Green senior middle hitter again on the next play, and her 20th kill of the match knotted the score.
“Before the match we had a team meeting, and the focus of the meeting was all about heart. Heart is what will win this tournament, whoever wants it the most and whoever can play with the most heart,” Albers said. “I am proud of our team because we got down several times in the match and it would have been very easy to give up but we fought and we came back. We wanted this so there was no way we were going to let down.”
Sophomore middle hitter Lauren Budde took over for Washington U. down the stretch, tallying three kills during crunch time to keep her team alive to compete in a fifth set. It was Budde’s 17th kill that provided WU with its third shot at set point, 26-25, and this time Hope’s Sara DeWeerdt sent an attack off the tape to give Washington U. the two-point win.
In the fifth set a pivotal 6-1 Washington University scoring resulted in what would prove to be too large a margin for Hope to overcome. The Dutch led 6-4 when junior Marya Kaminski began the scoring streak with a kill, and sophomore outside hitter Kristen Thomas provided WU with a one-point lead.
Washington University was up by five points, 13-8, thanks to Albers’ 25th and final kill of the night, another Thomas score gave WU match point at 14-11, and the contest ended as Hope’s Kristen Johnson was called for a double hit.
“I think that probably the most important thing I saw out there, after going down 2-1and being behind in game four was the resolve the team showed to catch up,” Luenemann said. “The most critical thing that happened for us is that we got our focus back, and we started running attack options that were scoring on their defense.”
Budde finished the match with 19 kills while hitting .333, and Thomas boasted a hitting percentage of .462 as she racked up 14 kills, her highest single-match total since she had 16 against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Sept. 12. Thomas went 19-straight matches without reaching double-digits in kills before she had 11 against Colorado College in the national quarterfinal on Thursday night, and now she has accomplished the feat in two-straight matches.
Fisher tallied 50 assists and seven kills, and freshman libero Kelly Pang paced the WU defense with 15 digs. The Bears also tallied 10 team blocks compared to just three for Hope College, and Budde led the way registering five total blocks, three solos and two assists. Hope sophomore Jacie Fiedler proved to be a devastating attacker for nearly the whole match, hitting a blistering .490 with 28 kills.
Washington University was effective in nearly all facets of the game as they pulled out a 25-21 victory in the opening set. A frame that began as a back-and-forth affair was finally broken open when Thomas blocked down a VandeGuchte attack to give the Bears a 13-9 lead, their largest of the set.
It was 14-9 Bears as sophomore defensive specialist Tricia Brandt sent a serve through the hands of Bulthuis, and the lead became 16-11 thanks to an ace from Thomas, again off of Bulthuis. Hope was never closer than four points until they narrowed the margin to 21-24 late in the set, but Luenemann called a timeout to settle his team and Hope’s Andrea Helminiak sent a serve into the net on the next play.
Despite a frenzied comeback attempt the Red and Green could never completely erase an early six-point deficit in the second set. Trailing 20-14, the Bears scored seven of the next nine points to pull within one, 22-21, but WU did not tie the set or regain the lead. Fiedler was a force for Hope in the second, tallying six kills and increasing her match-high total to 10 through just two sets while hitting .375.
Fiedler had seven more kills in the third set as Hope took a 2-1 lead in the match. The Dutch had two attackers hitting .500 through three sets, Fiedler and VandeGuchte, and the Dutch used a 6-1 run to start the third to move on for a 25-15 win. Washington U. struggled with its ball control in the third and the offense suffered as a result; WU hit just .097 with nine kills and six errors in the third-set loss.