(Posted April 18, 2009)

MAHWAH, N.J. -- The Juniata College men's volleyball team captured its sixth Molten Division III Invitational championship with a 3-0 win over Stevens Institute of Technology, in Saturday night's 2009 Molten title match at Ramapo College's Bill Bradley Sports and Recreation Center.

Set scores for Juniata were 30-26, 30-25, and 30-19.

The victory returned Juniata (17-7) to the top of the mountain in Division III men's volleyball, after the Eagles had their string of four consecutive Molten titles snapped in 2008. The Eagles have played in seven Molten championship matches, out of 10 appearances in the tournament.

Junior outside hitter Zach Wanner (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield) led the Eagles with 15 kills on 28 swings with only three service errors, giving him a .429 attack percentage, to go with a team-high five blocks. Junior middle Evan Halteman (Perkiomenville, Pa./Christopher Dock) had 14 kills on 19 swings with a .684 attack rate.

Juniata turned up only 26 digs, but still managed to out-dig Stevens, 26-21. Junior libero Anthony Damiano (Lititz, Pa./Manheim Township) accounted for nine Eagle digs, while sophomore Dan Follett (Cranberry Township, Pa./Seneca Valley) had five.

Senior setter Matt Werle (Meadville, Pa./Meadville) again ran the Juniata offense masterfully, setting 37 assists while Juniata hit .387 as a team. Werle was named the Molten Tournament Most Valuable Player, wth Wanner and Damiano each getting the nod for the Molten All-Tournament Team.

"Matt's play in this tournament was simply amazing," said Juniata head coach Jeremy Price. "I thought Anthony Damiano was deserving of All-America honors this season, so I'm glad he got the recognition tonight in the Moltens. There's no doubt in my mind he is the top libero in Division III, and one of the top liberos in the country."

Stevens' Joe Trinsey recorded 11 kills on 26 swings with four errors, and was the lone Ducks player to finish with a double-digit kill total. Andrew Cranford and Tomas Bochicchio each had nine kills for the Ducks, and were both named to the All-Tournament Team.

A Juniata win in set two seemed to break Stevens, as the Eagles saw a sizable lead disappear before managing to retake the lead and upend the Ducks in a set that featured 13 ties and seven lead changes.

With Juniata leading 15-11, Stevens rattled off six straight points and eventually grabbed a 17-15 advantage. Trinsey had one kill during the run, while Doug Reger and Brandt Grobeis had two blocks. Juniata responded to tie the set at 17-17 following an attack error by Reger, and back-to-back side out kills advanced the score to 18-18. Kills by Follett and Halteman put Juniata in front 20-18; after two side out kills, a termination by Wanner stretched the Eagle lead to three points, 22-19.

Following a Stevens timeout at 22-19, the two squads traded six straight side out points that left Juniata with a 25-22 lead. The Eagle lead became four points with a Cranford attack error, and Juniata maintained at least three points separation from Stevens the rest of the way.

A Bochicchio attack error on set point allowed Juniata to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission, where Price reminded his squad that they handily won the first two sets when Juniata hosted Stevens earlier in 2009, only to see the Ducks eventually turn the match into a five-set marathon.

"I told the guys they needed to keep competing hard and keep out-working them, and I told them if they did then Stevens would eventually fold," said Price. "I compared it to a vise, and told them to tighten - keep applying the pressure."

Set three opened with 12 straight side out points that led to a 6-6 tie, before Juniata grabbed the lead with a five-point run. Werle, Follett, Wanner and Halteman all had kills during that stretch, with Halteman and Follett combining for a block to make the score 8-6 in Juniata's favor.

The Eagles held their lead all the way to 21-14, when a Dan Powers (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) side out kill returned service to Juniata and Werle. Werle's first serve resulted in a Juniata point off a Follett kill, however Werle hit the next three serves for aces to give the Eagles a 26-14 advantage.

Juniata regained the serve at 27-16, and Brian Jaron (Severna Park, Md./Mount Saint Joseph) notched a pair of service aces of his own to put the Eagles on championship point. A Jaron service error and a pair of Juniata attack errors forced the Eagles to wait a little longer than planned, but a Bochicchio attack error off the serve of Grobeis triggered Juniata's celebration of a sixth Molten title.

"Once Matt started serving and had those three aces, we were like sharks who've picked up blood in the water," said Price.

Juniata will have 12 days to revel in its Molten championship before it steps back on the court, this time in the EIVA Tournament. Second-seeded Juniata receives a bye through to the semifinals, and will play on April 30 at Penn State's Rec Hall in State College, Pa. Exact match time and opponent have yet to be determined.


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