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Women's volleyball drops heartbreaker to Washington University in championship match

(Posted November 21, 2009)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- On five occasions, Juniata College women's volleyball has had a post-season march toward a championship cut short by a loss to Washington University of St. Louis.

Now it's six.

Just two sets away from capturing a third Division III national championship, Juniata dropped a 3-1 decision to Washington-St. Louis in Saturday night's title match at John Carroll University's DeCarlo Varsity Center. Set scores for the Bears were 18-25, 26-24, 25-17, and 25-21.

The win allowed Washington-St. Louis (34-4) to claim a record-setting tenth NCAA crown. For Juniata (36-4), the loss was its sixth in eight appearances in the championship, and allowed the archrival Bears to take a 3-2 advantage in meetings between the two teams in title match meetings. The two squads previously met in the 1993, 1996, 2004, and 2006 national championship matches, with the Eagles coming away victorious in 2004 and 2006 for the program's only titles.

WashU also stopped Juniata's title hopes twice in the semifinals (1989, 1990) and once in the quarterfinals (1995).

Sophomore outside hitter Drew Barnhart (Titusville, Pa./Titusville) led the Eagles with 13 kills on 36 swings, while in the middle sophomore Amanda Schmidt (Boswell, Pa./North Star) logged eight kills on 17 attacks for a .353 hitting percentage. Both players recorded four total blocks, part of a Juniata tally of 10.0 blocks that was the most by the Eagles since a 10.5 block-performance against Salisbury University back on October 13.

However Juniata hit just .173 as a team - its second-worst hitting performance this season.

WashU countered with four players with double-digit kill totals, led by sophomore middle Lauren Budde with 15 kills on 49 swings, to go with five total blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Kristen Thomas and junior middle Marya Kaminski each had 12 kills, while senior middle Erin Albers had 10 kills.

The Bears hit .208 on the evening, overcoming 24 attack errors by totaling 173 swings. Washington University also had 10 service errors.

"Washington University played very well, and we were not as precise as were going to have to be to beat a team that good," said Juniata head coach Larry Bock. "We lost the pass-serve game, and we were maybe a little careful with serving. We probably backed off our serve a little bit."

"In the end, they got more and better swings than we did," said Bock.

Junior setter Steph Strauss (Penn Hills, Pa./Penn Hills) recorded 36 assists for the Eagles, while recording six kills. Senior libero Megan Sollenberger (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Cumberland Valley) closed out her remarkable career with 28 digs, giving her 726 for the season - third-best single season campaign in Juniata history.

Sollenberger finishes as Juniata's all-time digs leader with 2,839 over her four years in blue and gold.

Juniata grabbed a 6-1 lead right out of the gate in the opening set, including kills by freshman middle Kelsey Fuller (Red Lion, Pa./Red Lion) and Strauss. The Eagles led the rest of the way in the set, threatened slightly when the Bears pulled to within two at 15-13 following a Marilee Fisher kill. A Barnhart kill ended the WashU rally, and Juniata notched two more points on Washington attack errors to widen the lead.

Momentum seemed to swing on the second set, when Juniata seemed on the verge of completing an improbable comeback only to be denied during extra points. The Eagles trailed by as much as 18-12 in the second frame, but waged a comeback that was completed when a pair of Bears attack errors allowed Juniata to tie WashU at 24-24. A Budde kill allowed the Bears to serve for set point, and a Juniata attack error allowed Washington to tie the match with a second-set victory.

WashU started pulling away from Juniata midway through the third set. The Bears led by only one point, 12-11, following a kill by Juniata senior Paige Johnston (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield), but a Molly Sollenberger (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Cumberland Valley) service error extended the WashU lead to 13-11. That marked the start of a three-point run by the Bears, who went on to score six of the next seven points to take an 18-12 lead. Washington held on from there, eventually closing the set on a Thomas kill.

In the fourth set, the Bears again broke free of the Eagles midway through the frame. A Kaminski block widened Washington's lead to 12-10 - starting a run where the Bears scored eight of the next 10 points. Juniata pulled to within three at 23-20, following a Kristin Noetzel (Closter, N.J./Northern Valley Regional) kill. A pair of side out points advanced the score to 24-21, putting the Bears on championship point, and a Juniata service error ended the match with Washington claiming the championship.

The loss was just the second four-set loss for Juniata this season, against nine wins.

Juniata will graduate four seniors off this year's squad, with 12 players eligible to return in 2010.

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