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Juniata WVB advances to national championship with upset over Wisconsin-Oshkosh

(Posted November 20, 2009)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Juniata College will make its eighth appearance in the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship match after dispatching top-seeded University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 3-0, in Saturday night's second semifinal at John Carroll University's DeCarlo Varsity Center.

Set scores for Juniata (36-3) were 25-23, 25-18, and 26-24, and gave the Eagles a measure of revenge for a 3-2 defeat suffered at the hands of the Titans in Juniata's regular season finale.

Juniata will be making its first appearance in the national championship match since 2006, when the Eagles defeated Washington University-St. Louis for their second NCAA title.

Tomorrow night's title match again pits Juniata against Washington-St. Louis, after the Bears edged Hope College 3-2 to earn its spot in the championship. Juniata and Washington-St. Louis met back on September 8 at WashU's Teri Clemens Invitational, with the Bears coming away with a 3-0 win - with all three sets requiring extra points.

Freshman middle Kelsey Fuller and sophomore middle Amanda Schmidt led the Eagles with 10 kills each; Schmidt's 10 terminations came on 18 swings with just one error, giving her a .500 hitting percentage for the match and a .444 attack clip over the first two matches of the championship rounds.

However it was defensive matchup with UW-Oshkosh's All-America middle Jacque Ray that may have done the most to help lift the Eagles to the win. Ray, who entered the match hitting .326 and averaging 3.11 kills per set, was held to just eight kills in Friday night's clash with Juniata.

Juniata head coach Larry Bock put Schmidt up against Ray in the middle, and Schmidt forced Ray to hit 10 attack errors on 28 swings, and finish with a -.071 hitting percentage. Schmidt recorded three block solos on the night, as Juniata out-blocked UW-Oshkosh, 7.0 to 4.0.

"This was just a real gutsy kind of performance. Even the youngsters played like veterans," said Bock. "But I'd have to say the Amanda Schmidt matchup on Jacque Ray was a key for us tonight."

UW-Oshkosh (39-3) was led by Ray, Katie Beining, and Aleisha Bagin with eight kills apiece. The Titans were held to just .083 hitting as a team, with setter Katelyn Vara recording 29 assists.

For the Eagles, junior setter Steph Strauss recorded 33 assists and ran a Juniata offense that hit .186 as a team. Senior libero Megan Sollenberger turned up 25 digs, while Molly Sollenberger added 10.

Sophomore outside hitter Drew Barnhart led the Juniata pin hitters with nine kills on 27 swings with five errors, a .148 attack percentage. Senior opposite Paige Johnston added four kills on 23 swings and six errors.

Juniata had to come-from-behind in the first set, after trailing by as much as 15-9 in the opening frame. The Eagles chipped away at the lead and caught the Titans at 20-20, following a Beining attck error with senior outside hitter Michelle Morchesky serving. The lead see-sawed to 23-23, when a Fuller kill put Juniata on set point; a Ray attack error closed out the frame in the Eagles' favor.

The Eagles led wire-to-wire in set two, taking a decisive 10-4 lead early in the match, with a five-point run off Megan Sollenberger's serve. Junior middle Kristin Noetzel had a pair of kills during that stretch, part of her total of six kills on 18 swings with three total blocks.

UW-Oshkosh forced Juniata to again play its way out of a deficit in the third set, and carried the Eagles into extra points.

The Titans held a 22-20 lead late in the frame, and appeared to be on the verge of forcing a fourth set. A Ray attack error followed by a pair of kills off the arm of Schmidt vaulted Juniata into the lead, 23-22, and forced UWO to call a timeout to regroup and stop the Juniata surge.

A Barnhart kill out of the timeout put Fuller in position to serve for match point for the Eagles, but the Titans' Ray put down a kill to cut the Juniata lead to 24-23. Another Ray kill tied the set at 24-24, but a Schmidt block gave Juniata a second crack at match point. This time, with Megan Sollenberger serving, Barnhart finished the job to send Juniata into the championship.

Juniata and Washington-St. Louis will square off for the 36th time in their storied rivalry, the fifth time they've faced in a national championship match, on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 7:00 p.m. at John Carroll's DeCarlo Varsity Center.

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