PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Wesleyan University volleyball team's historic 2017 season came to an end Saturday night as the Cardinals dropped a thrilling 3-2 heartbreaker against No. 8 Johnson & Wales University in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Division III Championships. Wesleyan held a 2-1 lead in the match but the Wildcats rallied in the fourth and fifth sets to prevail and advance to the regional finals tomorrow, Nov. 12. They will face MIT at 2 p.m.
In a rematch of head coaches Ben (Wesleyan) versus Nancy (Johnson & Wales) Somera, the Wildcats came from behind to win by scores of 22-25, 25-19, 20-25, 25-13, 15-5 on their home court. The Cardinals incredible season ends with a 22-7 record—its most wins since the 2001 season which marked Wesleyan's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Johnson & Wales remains undefeated and is now 34-0 on the year.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- Johnson & Wales came out hot, scoring the first four points, and jumped out to a 10-5 lead. Wesleyan rallied, however, and got within one following a block by Madeleine Lundberg '18 and Gabby Bennett '20. After some back-and-forth play, kills from Stasie Litinsky '20 and Harper Graves '21, respectively, gave the Cardinals their first lead of the match up 21-20. Tied at 22-22, Wesleyan scored three unanswered as Graves sealed the first set win with a kill.
- Both teams exchanged points early and often in the second game. With the set even at 7-7, the Wildcats went on a 3-0 run to force a Wesleyan timeout. The Cardinals responded nicely out of the timeout and scored six of the next seven points. Down the stretch, Wesleyan led 18-17 but Johnson & Wales scored seven unanswered and eight of the last nine points to claim the win (25-18) and even the set at 1-1.
- Trailing 11-9, the Cardinals' defense made several impressive plays as they went on a 4-0 run to force a Wildcat timeout. Wesleyan used another run shortly after (5-1) to take a 21-16 lead and shift the momentum into its favor. Hilton sealed the win with another kill to give Wesleyan a 25-20 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.
- Johnson & Wales jumped out to a big 9-1 lead in the fourth set to set the tone early as the Wildcats would carry the momentum throughout the game, claiming a commanding 25-13 victory to force a decisive fifth set.
- It went back-and-forth early in the final game and a kill from Hilton evened the score at 4-4. However, the Wildcats went on an incredible 11-1 run to close out the set and claim the come-from-behind win.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Wesleyan was led offensively by Hilton and Litinsky with 13 kills each while Kaira Muraoka-Robertson '20 dished out 37 assists. Defensively, Phia Bellizzi '21 totaled a match-high 27 digs as Lundberg and Harper Graves '21 added 14 and 13, respectively.
- The Wildcats were led by Katie Leidhold who registered 17 kills. Maria Coniglio added 12 and Kate Walker totaled 11 with a .476 hitting percentage. Brylee Frank dished out 40 assists and Elyssa Nicolas tallied 25 digs. Joining Nicolas with double-digit digs was Coniglio (20), Mikayla Arimura (16), and Frank (16).
- Johnson & Wales totaled 58 kills to Wesleyan's 47 and held a 100-80 edge in digs. The Cardinals recorded eight service aces and eight blocks.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE:
- Bellizzi was named to the Regional All-Tournament Team.
- Wesleyan is now 5-2 all-time against the Wildcats. Johnson & Wales won the first meeting this season 3-1 by scores of 25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-19 on Oct. 19 in Middletown, Conn.
- Johnson & Wales is now 2-7 in eight NCAA Tournament appearances and Wesleyan is 2-2 in two appearances.
- The Cardinals historic season started with eight-straight wins, without losing a set, en route to its second-best start in program history with a 16-1 record through 17 matches. Wesleyan went on to win the Little Three title for the first time since 1992 and just the second time ever and claimed its first-ever NESCAC Championship. Nicole Hilton was also named the 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year in just her second season with the program.