(Posted November 27, 2004)

Rochester, MN ? The looks on the faces of the Juniata College women?s volleyball team as well as the smile flashed by Head Coach Larry Bock suggest that believe it or not, it was worth the wait. The 24-year wait finally ended in Rochester, Minn. Saturday night as the Juniata College women?s volleyball team captured its first Division III National Championship on the strength of a 3-0 victory over Washington University (Mo.). Juniata finishes the season with a record of 37-3, while Washington finishes 32-7. Juniata claimed the match by game scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-28.

After years of heart-breaking defeats and near-misses, Juniata captured the elusive national title on its 19th trip to the national semifinals, and its fifth appearance in the national championship match. In typical fashion, Bock deflected the attention and was understated following the match.

?For 24 years I?ve come been to these press conferences and have had to come from a locker room with girls who were crying?this is much better,? Bock said. ?I couldn?t feel better about the school I work for and for this team, which deserves all the credit. Also have to pass the credit to my assistant coach Heather Pavlik?I?ve been riding her shoulders for a number of years.?

As they have throughout the season, Juniata played well early and keep things tight. Juniata took the lead on the serving of Tournament MVP Carli Dale (Cochranton/Cochranton). Washington tied the score late 27, but Juniata followed with kills from Katie Laucks (West York/York) and Lindsey Habel (Glen Oak/Canton, Ohio), then an ace from Laucks to seal the win.
?We wanted to get off to a good start and prove that we were going to be annoying and hard to get rid off,? Bock explained. ?We were able to do that, and then just kept serving and passing well. We did a good job with that.?

Game two was controlled by Juniata most of the way. Juniata led by as many as five, including a late 22-17 edge. The Bears answered and cut the lead to 29-26 on an ace from Megan Houck. Then after an attack error brought the Bears within two, Houck served into the net, giving the Eagles a 30-27 game-two win.

It was Washington that held the lead throughout much of the deciding game. A kill from Stephanie Kines (Towson/Towson, Md.) tied the match at 14. The two teams then traded side outs, with a block from Kines finally swinging the lead to 22-20 in favor of Juniata. The Eagles kept the lead at two points, down the stretch, until the Bears knotted the match at 25 with a kill from Emilie Walk. Katie Charles (Manheim Township/Lancaster) and Laucks followed with back-to-back kills, then Habel had a pair of finishes down the stretch, including the match-clincher.

?We wanted to contain their right side hitter [Whitney Smith] and we were able to do a pretty good job with that,? Bock said. ?That?s a classy program at Washington, and it was nice to be able to get one against them. It felt right to have it be Juniata, Washington match for the championship.?

?Juniata?s back court defense was the difference,? Washington Head Coach Rich Luenemann said. ?They played defense at the best level of any Division III team. If there?s anyone in America that it was okay to lose to, it was Larry Bock.?

Tonight?s match was the third time Juniata and Washington have matched up in the championship match. The Bears claimed victories in 1993 and 1996. But Juniata had claimed the last two meetings against Washington, including a 3-0 victory at Washington this year. Juniata ends the year having won 20 consecutive matches.

The victory capped an emotional season for Juniata which saw the team enjoy several program firsts, but also deal with the serious illness of teammate Erin Dodson (Altoona/Altoona). Dodson who was stricken with brain cancer early in the year, made the trip to Rochester to be with her teammates. The highlights for the Blue and Gold began early in the season when Bock became the first NCAA women?s volleyball coach to earn 1,000 victories. Then, Dale became the first player in Juniata history to be chosen as the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III National Player of the Year. But it was the final high and first that Juniata had its eye on all season. The Eagles were looking to earn that elusive title for themselves, but also for their legendary coach.

?We didn?t just do this for our team,? Kines stated. ?We did it for Larry and for every former Juniata volleyball player that has gone through the program.?

Kines joined Dale on the All-Tournament Team, along with Tara McMinn (Huntingdon/Huntingdon) and Laucks. Kines finished the match with a team-high 17 kills while hitting .519. Charles added 13 finishes, with Laucks putting away 12. Rachael Schatz (West Perry/Elliotsburg) added 10 kills. Dale finished with 51 assists, which moves her into first place in Juniata history in career assists. She also added 12 digs, while McMinn brought up 25 digs. Kines paced the defense with five blocks, with Schatz adding three.

Washington finished with Walk posting a team-best 11 kills. Houck finished with 10. Kara Liefer passed out 29 assists while libero Nicole Hodgman dug 23 balls. Houck also recorded four blocks.

But finally, after 24 years in the tournament, the night belonged to Juniata and Bock.

?Coach Bock is just a really great guy,? Dale said simply. ?He?s done this for a long time, and he knows how to do it.?

?It was just a lot of fun,? Kines also stated. ?We played our best volleyball of the season tonight?and that was exactly what we needed to do.?

The best volleyball of the season has earned the Juniata College volleyball team one more first?National Champions.


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