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Men's volleyball downs Saint Francis in EIVA semis, will make first appearance in championship match

(Posted April 30, 2009)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Juniata College will play for the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship on Saturday, after knocking off Saint Francis University, 3-1, in Thursday's EIVA Tournament semifinals at Penn State's Recreation Hall.

Set scores for Juniata were 30-28, 26-30, 30-26, and 33-31.

Juniata (18-7) advanced to the EIVA championship match for the first time in its four appearances in the semifinal round. The Eagles will face the winner of Thursday's second semifinal between Penn State and George Mason in Saturday's championship, which begins at 7:00 p.m.

Juniata is believed to be the first Division III program to ever play in a conference championship match with an NCAA tournament berth at stake.

The win also extended Juniata's winning streak to eight matches. The Eagles' last loss was on March 24 at home to Penn State.

Juniata's middle hitters paced the Eagles offensively. Junior middle Evan Halteman (Perkiomenville, Pa./Christopher Dock) led the Eagles with 15 kills on 22 swings for a .682 attack percentage. He also had a team-high six blocks. Senior middle hitter Dan Powers (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) tallied 13 kills on 21 swings, hitting at a .571 clip.

Among the Eagle pin hitters, junior Zach Wanner (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield) led the way with 12 kills and 11 errors on 47 swings, finishing with a .021 hitting percentage.

Junior libero Anthony Damian turned up 18 digs, matching his third-best single match dig total of the season. Senior setter Matt Werle (Meadville, Pa./Meadville) guided the Eagle offensive to a .234 team hitting percentage with his 52 assists.

"Obviously I'm pleased with the outcome," said Juniata head coach Jeremy Price. "It wasn't the prettiest match that we've played all year. Definitely the best team we've seen in the last month."

"I thought Anthony Damiano played really well with 18 digs, and I thought Werle ran the middle from some really tough spots - 10 to 12 feet - and both Evan and Dan were real fast. I thought that was the difference was that we were able to run the middle a few more times than they were," said Price.

Juniata managed to stay just ahead of the Red Flash throughout much of set one, but got to set point on a Wanner kill and a service ace by Powers. The Eagles failed to close out the Flash on their first two attempts at set point, before finally getting past Saint Francis thanks to another Wanner kill.

Saint Francis knotted the match at 1-1 with the win in set two, after winning nine of the final 15 points of the set. The Red Flash broke a 22-22 tie with a pair of blocks by McManamon and Varee, before the run ended on a McManamon attack error. Saint Francis then won the next three points, taking a 27-23 lead, before a Powers termination pulled the Eagles back to within three. Back to back kills by Freyer and Conley put the Red Flash on set point, and three points later Saint Francis closed the set on a Powers attack error.

In the third set, Juniata began to pull away from Saint Francis at 14-14, thanks to three straight Red Flash attack errors off the serve of Chris Vrooman (Baden, Pa./Ambridge Area). After four straight side out points, Juniata regained the serve and stretched its lead to 19-16 on a Werle service ace. A Powers kill and a ball handling error by Saint Francis' Eric Syty put the Eagles in front, 21-16, before a Werle service error ended the Juniata run.

The Eagles stayed at least four points in front of the Red Flash all the way to 25-21, when a Vrooman attack error allowed Saint Francis to sneak back to within three of Juniata, but a Halteman kill put the Eagles back into a 26-22 lead. A Dan Follett (Cranberry Township, Pa./Seneca Valley) kill and a Brian Jaron (Severna Park, Md./Mt. St. Joseph) service ace got Juniata to 28-23, and two side out points later the Eagles had their first attempt at set point. Four points later, a Powers kill locked up the set for Juniata.

Saint Francis had a six-point lead for much of the fourth set, and held that advantage all the way through 18-12. However a five-point Juniata run, which included three Saint Francis attack errors and kills by Halteman and Vrooman, erased much of that advantage and left the Red Flash with an 18-17 lead.

"That five-point run - that was a match changer, to get that momentum back," said Werle.

"We looked not-so-much match ready the first couple games, and then I think finally about halfway through game four, when we were down seven, that we finally started to pass and run our offense. Our pin hitters finally got going a little bit even though they didn't necessarily have their best night," said Price.

Juniata chased Saint Francis all the way to 23-23 before pulling even, and finally overtook the Red Flash for good on Pat McManamon's service error to make the score 27-26. A Mike Kraft (York, Pa./Eastern York) service ace took the Eagles to 28-26, but a Jordan Varee kill pulled Saint Francis back to within one point at 28-27. Powers logged his 13th kill to get the Eagles to the first of five match points at 29-27, but a service error by Powers gave the serve and point to the Flash. A kill by Saint Francis' Pete Freyer knotted the set at 29-29. Two kills by Vrooman were answered by terminations from Varee, before a Halteman kill got Juniata to match point at 32-31. A block by Powers and Werle finally closed out the set and match, sending Juniata to the championship match.

"That's my favorite way to win a match, let alone a point," said Powers.

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Last revised 10:55 p.m., April 30, 2009

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