Oshkosh, Wis., Nov. 19, 2016 – Washington University in St. Louis volleyball's run to the NCAA Division III National Championship came to a close Saturday evening as the Bears fell to No. 2 Calvin College 3-0 in the Kolf Sports Center.
WashU (27-11) finished the night with many numbers right in line with Calvin (33-1), including a higher total in digs than the Knights with 54-48. The Knights were able to use their height to their advantage and out-blocked the Bears for just the eighth time on the season, 7-6. Calvin boasted a lineup of five Knights 6-feet or taller that saw action.
"Calvin College is a great team. I would say congratulations to them on their win," said head coach Vanessa Walby. "They blocked really well tonight, and they did a good job of zeroing in on a lot of our key players, but I'm really proud of our girls. They did an amazing job this season, and I think a lot of people underestimated us at the beginning of the season."
Senior Amanda Palucki finished the night with a .500 hitting percentage, totaling 11 kills to just one error on 20 attempts. Fellow senior Rexi Sheredy was the lone other Bear to reach double-figures in kills with 10 total. The final member of the senior Bear trio, Caroline Dupont, led the team with four blocks including two solo.
"This is the furthest [the seniors] have ever gone, and it shows how special of a team that we had," added Dupont. "I'm emotional right now, not because we lost, but because of the love I have for this team."
Calvin 3 – WashU 0 – (25-21, 25-21, 25-21)
The Bears and Knights traded single points back and forth to open the match before back to back kills from sophomores Julianne Malek and Ifeoma Ufondu gave WashU a 4-2 advantage. The Knights followed with three straight points to take the lead before an error tied things up at 5-all. Calvin was first to reach 10 points but senior Dupont knotted things up with a downward spike.
A 3-0 run gave Calvin a 15-12 lead, the first lead larger than two points. The Knights continued to stretch their lead after a media timeout before a Sheredy kill ended the run at 21-14. Sheredy continued with two more kills and a solo block from Dupont brought the Bears within four points causing a Calvin timeout, as WashU trailed 21-17. WashU was unable to close the four-point gap as Calvin took a 1-0 match lead with a 25-21 set one win.
Sheredy led the Bears with six kills while Palucki was successful on three of four attack attempts. WashU and Calvin finished set one with 15 kills a piece as the Bears outhit the Knights with a .314 hitting percentage.
A great dig from freshman Zoe Baxter led to a 1-0 lead for the Bears in the second set. Calvin responded with four straight points before two kills from Palucki and a Knight ball handling error evened things up at 4-all. The Knights worked their way ahead with a 10-5 run. The Bears nearly tied things up after four consecutive points but Calvin scored another 25-21 set win.
Palucki stayed hot in the second set tallying four kills and four digs but nine Bears errors in the second set were too much for WashU to overcome.
Dupont and Palucki opened the third set with a block which gave the Bears their third straight 1-0 lead of the night. Moments later, back to back kills form Malek and Ufondu put the Bears ahead 5-3 but Calvin responded with a 7-1 run. WashU pulled within two points multiple times until a Baxter ace closed the gap to a single point, 16-15. Two points later a solo block from Dupont tied things at 17 but the comeback was not meant to be as Calvin won the final set of the 2016 season 25-21.
"We did take [the underclassmen] under our wing and they were up for the challenge. I have all the confidence in the world for them these next few years, and I'm really excited to see what they're going to do," Dupont concluded.
For their efforts, Dupont and Malek were named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team.
The Bears second place finish is the fifth in program history. Be sure to stay up to date on all your Bears offseason news and accolades by following @WashUBears on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.