(Posted November 20, 2008)

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- The Juniata College women's volleyball team advanced to the national semifinals of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship with a 3-0 victory over third-seeded University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Thursday afternoon at the Shirk Center in Bloomington, Ill.

Set scores in the victory were 25-23, 25-15, and 25-22. The Eagles (35-4) now advance to Friday's first national semifinal against the University of La Verne (Calif.), who defeated SUNY New Paltz, 3-0 (25-15, 25-16, 25-16) in a quarterfinal matchup. Juniata defeated La Verne 3-1 earlier this season, when the two teams met on October 10 at La Verne's Leopard Invitational. Friday's rematch will begin at 4:30 p.m. (CST), and can be viewed by streaming video at www.iwu.edu/ncaaVB/.

Newly crowed Division III Player of the Year Amber Thomas (Ephrata, Pa./Conestoga Valley) led the Eagles with 12 kills on 27 swings, with four block assists and four digs. The 12 kills gives Thomas 1,715 for her career, moving her up to fifth among Juniata's career kills leaders.

Senior middle hitter Erin Albert (Philipsburg, Pa./Philipsburg-Osceola) put down 11 kills to go with five total blocks. Steph Strauss (Penn Hills, Pa./Penn Hills) and Michelle Morchesky (Greensburg, Pa./Hempfield) had six kills each.

After opening with a 4-0 lead. Juniata had to beat back several assaults from UW-Oshkosh to win the first set, which was tied as late as the 16-16 mark. Back-to-back kills by Morchesky and Strauss, gave Juniata a two-point lead; after a side out point by the Titans, the Eagles widened their lead to 21-17 after three straight errors by the UWO. Kills by Oshkosh's Katie Beining and Jacque Ray cut the lead to 21-20, but Juniata held on for the win through seven straight side out points between the two teams.

"The first game was real important," said Juniata coach Larry Bock. "We jumped out to a big lead, and I think Oshkosh legitimately did a good job catching up. The first game was a microcosm of the whole match; the first game began as a game of transition, and it ended in a termination affair."

Juniata followed the same pattern in set two, again grabbing a quick 4-0 lead and then keeping the Titans at bay. UWO threatened to catch Juniata after cutting the Eagle lead to 9-7, but Juniata responded with four points off Thomas' serve to widen its advantage. Another four-point Juniata run, starting with a Strauss kill to make the score 16-10, gave the Eagles command of the set.

"After a terrific quick transition from Oshkosh, Steph (Strauss) had a hard dump from a great dig by Jess Ritchey (Greencastle, Pa./Greencastle-Antrim) for a point. It was over at that point," said Bock.

The Titans (40-3) held an early lead in set three, but were chased down by the Eagles at 4-4 after Thomas' serve led Juniata to four straight points. The set was tied for the last time at 9-9, when attack errors by Kelsey Mauer and Katie Beining left Juniata with a 11-9 lead. The Eagles maintained at least a four-point lead the rest of the set, eventually sealing the win with an Albert kill.

"Amber came back strong after a measured start, and (Erin) Albert was very steady throughout," said Bock. "It is good to get out of the blocks; now the fun stuff starts."

Beth Kozak (Huntingdon, Pa./Huntingdon Area) finished with 18 assists for Juniata, while Strauss set 11 assists. Megan Sollenberger (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Cumberland Valley) had 15 digs. Wisconsin-Oshkosh was paced by Jacque Ray with 12 kills, while Mauer logged seven terminations. Setter Katelyn Vera had 28 assists, with Christina Cahoon recording 19 digs.


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