(Posted November 18, 2005)

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Salem, Va. - The Juniata College women's volleyball team staged a miracle comeback to keep its hope for a repeat national championship alive as the Eagles outlasted Wittenberg University 3-2 in the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball semifinals in Salem, Va. Juniata, which improved to 37-1, will take on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Championship Match Saturday night.

Juniata junior outside hitter Rachael Schatz (West Perry/Elliotsburg) pounded out a career-high 35 kills including three as Juniata staved off four game points down the stretch in game five. Freshman Amber Thomas (Conestoga Valley/Ephrata) also had a career-best with 22 finishes as the Eagles earned the victory by game scores of 26-30, 30-24, 27-30, 30-21, 30-31. Wittenberg, which was making its first-ever NCAA semifinal appearance ends the season 34-5 overall.

The pivotal game five was as close as it could have been from the start as neither team led by more than one point until a kill from Wittenberg's Caitlin Augustus gave the Tigers a 8-6 lead. Juniata rallied with back-to-back kills from Katie Laucks (West York/York) and a service ace from Kristi Fitzsimmons (Diamond Ranch/Pomona, Calif.) to take a 9-8 edge. From there it looked like Wittenberg would earn the victory as Linda Young posted a kill and the Tigers defense forced three Juniata errors to put Juniata on the bring of elimination at 14-10. From there Laucks and Rachael Schatz (West Perry/Elliotsburg) took over. Laucks tossed in five jump serves and Schatz pounded out three consecutive kills to pull within one 14-13. Stephanie Kines (Towson/Towson, Md.) tied the match with a kill, and the Eagles then sealed the comeback with a double block from Kines and Schatz.

With the season on the brink, the Eagles relied on the experience of last season's championship run, along with the calm from the bench.

"I think our experience was worth a few points on the scoreboard tonight," Juniata Head Coach Larry Bock said. "When we called timeout down 14-10 I just told them 'we are fine'. We then got some cool serving from Katie and rode Rachael like we had all night."

The Tigers jumped in front early in game one before the Eagles rallied to take a 17-16 edge after a Schatz kill. The teams went back-and-forth from there, before Wittenberg claimed a late 27-24 lead after three Juniata errors. The Eagles countered with kills from Thomas and an ace from Fitzsimmons to get within one 27-26. Wittenberg bounced back with the final three points of the game, getting kills from Augustus and Jackie Williams to close the 30-27 win.

The Eagles answered back in game two, getting big production from its outside hitters to earn the 30-24 win. Juniata gained a comfortable three-point lead 16-13 after a pair of Thomas kills. Wittenberg got back within two points at 20-18 following a Juniata error. But from there, the Eagles got seven combined kills from Schatz, Thomas and Aly Pompeani (Hopewell/Aliquappa) to claim the win.

"Wittenberg did a great job taking away our middle attack," Bock said. "So we obviously just rode Rachael, and there was no question that Amber did a great job as well. We tried to work some match-ups but Wittenberg worked them right along with us, and did a great job."

Game three was a back-and-forth affair. After Wittenberg held a three-point edge mid-way through the game, the Eagles rallied, pulling in front 22-20 on a Laucks kill. The Tigers came back on two kills from Jan Kehres tying the score at 22. Juniata then seemed to take control, getting consecutive kills from Schatz and an ace from Jessica Ritchey (Greencastle-Antrim/Greencastle) to move in front 26-22. The Tigers again found an answer rallying to tie the match at 26. Schatz put Juniata in front again 27-26 with a kill, but the Tigers got two finishes from Emily Dixon and one from Williams to claim the 30-27 win.

Juniata was forced to come from behind in game four as Wittenberg jumped to a 12-7 lead on an Augustus finish. Juniata again went to Schatz who responded with a pair of kills and then teamed with Laucks for a double block that gave the Blue and Gold a 15-13 lead. Juniata extended the lead to three on a block from Stephanie Kines (Towson/Towson, Md.) and Ritchey and the Tigers got no closer the rest of the way as Juniata earned the 30-21 win.

Laucks and Kines both were also in double figures as they added 12 and 11 kills respectively. Ritchey finished with a career-high 71 assists for Juniata, while also producing 15 digs. Tara McMinn (Huntingdon/Huntingdon) and Fitzsimmons both had 21 digs, while Laucks led the team with six blocks.

Emily Bell was the top attacker for the Tigers with 15 kills with Jan Kehres and Linda Young adding 13 apiece. Kehres also led the team with 22 digs, while Dixon had match-best 10 blocks.

Juniata and Wisconsin-Whitewater have not met this season. The previous meeting between the two teams was in the 2002 Division III semifinal which Whitewater won in five games en route to the National Championship.


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Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.