(Posted October 24, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- As Erin Dodson (Altoona, Pa./Altoona) stood on the endline of the Memorial Gym court waiting to be introduced - a position she took up only four times during her short career in the blue and gold - there were only faint physical reminders of the promising athlete who first arrived on the Huntingdon campus four years ago.

But the feisty competitive drive was still there, all right. You could sense it in her quivering voice as it echoed around the gym when Dodson spoke at the pre-game ceremony retiring her number 12 jersey, prior to Juniata's home contest against Washington & Lee University at the 2008 Wid Guisler Invitational, Friday night in Huntingdon, Pa.

It was the same spirit that Juniata head coach Larry Bock saw in Dodson, and led him to recruit her to Juniata in the first place.

"When you look at this jersey, don't remember the cancer. Forget the cancer. Remember this team. And remember that we shared a special bond that goes far beyond the volleyball court," said Dodson, addressing the capacity crowd of nearly 1,500.

Dodson addressed the crowd after two lengthy standing ovations, and Bock's request to "introduce, Juniata volleyball's number 12 one final time... a 5-11 freshman outside hitter, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, number 12, Erin Dodson."

"Erin is a courageous, tough Altoona kid who is staring down way more than anyone does on a field or court," said Bock. "She's loved, dearly, by so many people, and the mood in the gym tonight reflected that."

The only possible taint of the evening was the match itself, in which the number one-ranked Eagles were taken to five sets before posting a 3-2 win over the unranked squad from Washington & Lee.

After quickly dispatching the Generals 21-11 in the first set, Juniata (24-3) dropped a 26-24 decision in set two. Juniata senior middle hitter Erin Albert (Philipsburg, Pa./Philipsburg-Osceola) came down awkwardly on her left ankle on the final point of the set, a kill by W&L's Rachael Phillips, and did not play again in the match.

The Eagles rallied for a 27-25 win in set three, after allowing an 8-1 lead to open the set slip away. The Generals held a 23-21 lead late in the set, but Juniata pulled ahead on a pair of kills by Steph Strauss (Penn Hills, Pa./Penn Hills) and a service ace by Cassie Dickmann (Kennett Square, Pa./Unionville). The Eagles eventually sealed the win thanks to an attack error by W&L's Phillips, and a set-ending kill by Michelle Morchesky (Greensburg, Pa./Hempfield).

W&L squeaked out a 25-23 win in set four, with the Generals erasing a Juniata lead that reached 18-13. Juniata finally wrapped up the victory in the fifth set, downing the Generals 15-7. The Eagles rattled off five straight points off the serve of Megan Sollenberger (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Cumberland Valley) to take command of the set, including a pair of kills by Dickmann and two more by Paige Johnston (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster) during that stretch.

Strauss and Morchesky finished the night with 10 kills, while Amanda Schmidt (Boswell, Pa./North Star) had eight along with three blocks. Beth Kozak (Huntingdon, Pa./Huntingdon Area) set the offense with 20 assists to go with 11 digs. Sollenberger totaled 21 digs on the night.

W&L was paced by Kassie Bagley with 11 kills, while Phillips and Jessica Ulrich had 10 kills each. Megan Steinhardt finished with 36 assists, while Kelly Harrison had 16 digs.

"It got interesting out there, but it got interesting because Washington & Lee really started attacking the ball at the right angles. That's a really well-coached team," said Bock. "They were exploiting the right areas of the court and the right people, and they had some good strategic serving that led to some conservative passing on our part."

Juniata continues play in the Wid Guisler Invitational on Saturday, facing New York University at 11:00 a.m., followed by a match against Carnegie Mellon University at 5:00 p.m.


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