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Eagles Fall Just Short In Volleyball Final

(Posted November 19, 2005)

Rachael Schatz had 23 kills and earned All-Tournament Team honors for Juniata in the NCAA Tournament.

Salem, Va. - The Juniata College women's volleyball team simply ran out of comebacks. After rallying from a two-games to none deficit to force a decisive fifth game the Eagles had a final comeback fall just out of reach as the Eagles fell by a 3-2 score to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the NCAA Division III Championship. The Warhawks claim their second national championship after earning a title in 2002. Juniata ends the season with a record of 37-2 while Wisconsin-Whitewater finishes the season 40-4.

After pulling out a miraculous comeback in game four, it looked like Juniata might have one more escape up its sleeve after Whitewater surged in front 11-7 on a kill from Cassie Uttech. The Eagles countered with a kill from Rachael Schatz (West Perry/Elliotsburg) and another from Amber Thomas (Conestoga Valley/Ephrata) to inch closer at 13-10. A pair of Whitewater errors made the score 13-12, but Rebekah Nelson followed with two kills to earn the Division III national title for Wisconsin-Whitewater.

"This team left their hearts out there tonight," Juniata Head Coach Larry Bock said. "They never gave up either night, but we just came up a little bit short. It was pretty clear that we didn't lose this match, Whitewater won it."

Schatz, who was picked for the All-Tournament Team led the Eagles with 23 kills in the match, giving her a total of 58 finishes in the semifinals and finals. Amber Thomas also claimed All-Tournament Team honors for the Eagles as she had 18 finishes and added 16 digs. Katie Laucks (West York/York) closed her career with 14 kills and 13 digs, while Juniata's other senior Abby Leonard (Shade/Johnstown) had a pair of aces and 12 digs in the match. Stephanie Kines (Towson/Towson, Md.) finished with 10 kills. Tara McMinn (Huntingdon/Huntingdon) led Juniata with 19 digs, one of six players to reach double figures in digs. Beth Kozak (Huntingdon/Huntingdon) came on in game three at the setter position and helped spark the Eagles to the comeback as she dished out 28 assists and had 10 digs

After Wisconsin-Whitewater claimed the first two games, the Eagles proved tough to finish off with a 30-22 win in game three. Kines got the Eagles started with a five-point run that included three aces giving Juniata a 10-6 lead. Whitewater pulled within one point at 20-19 on a kill from Miller. Juniata countered with back-to-back Schatz kills and a solo block from Kines. A late ace from Leonard and a kill from Aly Pompeani (Hopewell/Aliquippa) closed the game.

"Bethany [Kozak] came in and did a great job to just help change the momentum," Bock said. "It wasn't anything than Jess [Ritchey] was doing, we just needed a change of pace, and Beth did that job."

Once again staring the end of its season in the face, Juniata mounted a remarkable comeback in game four. Trailing 27-17 after an Uttech kill, Juniata scored the final 13 points of the game to extend the match to a fifth game. Schatz had three kills and two solo blocks during the run while Thomas had two aces and Kozak closed the comeback with a kill.

Whitewater put Juniata in a hole for the second time in as many days as they posted the 30-25 win in game one. Juniata jumped out in front early, taking a 12-7 lead on a kill from Schatz. Whitewater's critical run came mid-way through the game as Cassie Uttech tossed in an ace and had a kill as part of a 7-0 run that put the Warhawks in front 20-17. The Eagles pulled back within one point on two occasions on a solo block and a kill from Kines but then ended the game with four consecutive errors.

"Wisconsin-Whitewaters experience really paid dividends," Bock said. "They got a great serving run early in game one and that really changed momentum, and we didn't react well. We struggled with our passing and were out of system a lot of the night."

The Warhawks put Juniata in danger of elimination by jumping out to an early lead in game two. Three consecutive kills from Alison Miller, Uttech and Nelson helped Whitewater to a 17-9 lead mid-way through the game. Juniata would chip away, with a kill from Schatz sparking a four-point run that cut the lead to 27-24. But another Nelson kill and a double block gave Whitewater the win.

Nelson finished a team-high 19 kills for Whitewater and captured All-Tournament Team honors. Uttech was also an All-Tournament Team pick as she produced 17 kills 17 digs and a pair of aces. Abbie Mueller was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player as she passed out 51 assists while adding 16 digs.

The loss caps a two-year run in which the Eagles posted a record of 74-5 and earned the program's first Division III national championship along with making its sixth championship match appearance.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.