Volleyball's Historic Season Ends in Elite Eight Thriller as No. 6 Juniata Wins, 3-2

Photo by David Hague
Photo by David Hague

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The greatest season in Wesleyan University volleyball history came to an end Thursday night despite a valiant effort by the Cardinals as No. 6 Juniata rallied to win 3-2 by scores of 20-25, 25-13, 18-25, 25-22, and 15-12 in the Elite Eight of the 2018 NCAA Division III Championships at the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University.

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Seventh-seeded Wesleyan held an 11-8 lead in the fifth and final set, but the second-seeded Eagles remained resilient and scored four unanswered points to go ahead 12-11 before closing out the match on a 3-0 run. Senior Madeleine Lundberg excelled in the final match of her career as she totaled a team-high 17 kills and added six digs and five blocks for the Cardinals. Juniata's Morgan Edwards led all players with 18 kills.

The Cardinals' greatest season ever comes to a close with a 20-6 record. Juniata extends its win streak to 26 and is now 28-3 overall this season. The Eagles advance to the Final Four and will face the No. 3 seed, Emory, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

MATCH HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Wesleyan was excellent in the first set. Lundberg scored the first point of the match and the Cardinals held a lead for the majority of the frame. Juniata knotted the score at 11-11 but a kill by Stasie Litinsky regained the Cardinals' lead and they never looked back. After scoring the first set, Lundberg then ended the set with a kill as Wesleyan totaled 18 kills and only three errors for a .333 hitting percentage. The Eagles registered 16 kills and three errors with a .351 attack clip.
  • It was a different story in the second set. With the match tied at 4-4, a kill by Edwards gave Juniata the lead as the Eagles went on a 7-1 run to pull away. They continued to increased their lead and eventually prevailed 25-13.
  • The Cardinals responded nicely in the third and jumped out to a 4-0 lead. They never trailed in a set that went back-and-forth often, and ended the frame just like they started with four unanswered points to claim a 25-18 win and 2-1 advantage in the match. Wesleyan totaled just 12 kills in the win and hit only .114, but the Eagles totaled nine errors and just 11 kills for a .040 attack clip.
  • Juniata came out strong in the fourth and jumped out to an 8-2 lead. Wesleyan, however, went on a 12-3 run to go ahead 14-11. The Eagles slowly cut into the deficit and an error by the Cardinals gave Juniata a 17-16 advantage. Both teams traded points down the stretch but the Eagles, with a 23-22 lead, scored the final two points to tie the match at 2-2. Juniata totaled 16 kills and eight errors for a .205 hitting percentage. Wesleyan tallied 11 kills and seven errors for a .100 attack clip.
  • The fifth and decisive set went back-and-forth early. Tied at 8-8, Wesleyan went on a 3-0 run to pull ahead. However, the Eagles retaliated and were led by Dejia Danhi with three-straight points. They outscored the Cardinals 7-1 down the stretch to secure their Final Four berth.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS:

  • Lundberg was joined in double-figures by Litinsky and Nicole Hilton with 13 kills each. Hilton had a team-high .333 hitting percentage. All-American Phia Bellizzi was excellent defensively once again, tallying a match-high 32 digs, and All-American Honorable Mention Kaira Muraoka-Robertson finished with 45 assists. Defensive specialists Olivia Guidotti and Jenna Otaola finished with 16 and 14 digs, respectively.
  • For the Eagles, Marie Gonsar and Marybeth Weihbrecht joined Edwards in double-digit kills as they both recorded 14. Weihbrecht was incredibly efficient as well, as she registered a .542 attack clip. Alyssa Tavera dished out 36 assists and Gonsar totaled 23 digs. Danhi totaled 11 blocks (9 assists, 2 solo).

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE:

  • Wesleyan made its first Elite Eight appearance in just its third NCAA Tournament berth ever, and second consecutive. Despite this, the Cardinals were not fazed by the big stage and came out strong with 18 kills in the first set to go ahead 1-0.
  • Juniata has qualified for all 38 NCAA Championships and is a two-time champion (2006, '04) and six-time runner-up.
  • The future looks bright for the Cardinals as 15 of 17 players return next year, including 10 of the 11 that played in tonight's match.
  • Head Coach Ben Somera has revitalized the program in just four years. In his first season, the Cardinals went 5-15 overall. The following year they finished 15-8 and in 2017 they won their first-ever NESCAC Championship before reaching the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
  • The Cardinals' postseason run featured an impressive 3-1 win over the No. 2 team in the country, Johnson & Wales. Wesleyan defeated the Wildcats in their home gym in the Regional Final, and snapped their 33-match win streak.