MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – The rematch of last year's NCAA Elite Eight matchup between Wesleyan and Juniata featured another five-set thriller, however, this time the 24th-ranked Cardinals came away victorious as they defeated the 14th-ranked Eagles at home by scores of 26-28, 25-23, 26-28, 25-20, 16-14.
Kaira Muraoka-Robertson recorded a double-double with a season-high 61 assists and 11 digs, while Nicole Hilton led the way with 17 kills and a .441 hitting percentage as Wesleyan improved to 17-2 overall. Friday night's match was the Cardinals' first five-set match of the year as they extend their win streak to nine. For Juniata, Moira Folan dished out 54 assists and registered 12 digs, and Victoria Taylor led all players with 23 kills but the Eagles dropped to 14-6.
"I thought we played steady the entire night, and again our defense came up big and helped us win points in transition," said Head Coach Ben Somera. "I liked the way we competed and hustled, and for the most part we had a great attitude and were disciplined in our system."
- The match went back-and-forth from the opening point with neither team pulling away at any time.
- In the first set, the Cardinals faced a 24-21 deficit but mounted an impressive rally and scored four-straight points to take the lead. After the teams split the next two points, Wesleyan held a 26-25 advantage but Juniata responded with three-consecutive kills from Taylor to seal the win.
- The Cardinals rallied late in the second set as well. Trailing 21-18, they went on a 5-0 run to go-ahead 23-21. Back-to-back kills by the Eagles evened the score, but a kill from Stasie Litinsky followed by an error from the visitors gave Wesleyan the victory.
- In the third set, it was Juniata who mounted the late rally this time around. Trailing most of the way, the Eagles closed out the frame on a 10-4 run as they came back from a 24-22 deficit. They also scored the final three points of the set to regain a lead in the match.
- The fourth set featured more thrilling play as the teams went back-and-forth throughout. However, down 18-16, Wesleyan scored seven unanswered points with Hilton serving as the momentum shifted in the home team's favor. After two points from Juniata cut the deficit to three, 23-20, Wesleyan sealed the win with a 2-0 run to force a decisive fifth set.
- The final set featured eight ties. Trailing 13-12, a kill from Litinsky followed by a kill from Hilton put the home team ahead by one. Dejia Danhi evened the score with a kill of her own, but back-to-back kills from Kurke and Hilton, respectively, sealed the impressive victory for the Cardinals.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Four players recorded double-digit kills for Wesleyan; Hilton (17), Litinsky (14), Mia Hogan (14), and Gabby Bennett (12). Phia Bellizzi led the defense with an incredible 39 digs, while Olivia Guidotti added 18. Bennett also led the team with four blocks (two solo).
- Joining Taylor in double-digit kills for the Eagles was Emma Davis with 17 and Morgan Edwards with 12. Aly Reardon had a team-high 28 digs, Sophia Gingrich added 16, and Marie Gonsar totaled 14. Danhi and Davis were forces at the net as they both totaled eight blocks.
- Wesleyan is back in action on Friday, Oct. 25 as the Cardinals host Little Three rival Williams at 8 p.m.