(Posted November 14, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- It was Highway 22 that brought Eastern University to Huntingdon for Saturday's women's volleyball showdown against Juniata College. It was Juniata's number 22 that ran Eastern down when it got here.

Juniata sophomore middle Amanda Schmidt put down 15 kills on 23 swings to lead her team to a 3-1 win over Eastern, in Saturday's Juniata Regional championship match of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship at the Kennedy Sports + Recreation Center.

Set scores for Juniata (34-3) were 25-22, 25-19, 26-28, and 25-18.

Juniata's win marked the second straight year the Eagles have downed Eastern University in the Regional Championship match; Juniata knocked out Eastern with a 3-0 shutout in last season's Regional final, with Eastern averaging just 15 points per set in the loss. Juniata's victory this season sends it into the national quarterfinals, where the Eagles will face Trinity University (Texas). Trinity, victors over Southwestern (Texas) in the Georgetown (Texas) Regional, dropped a 3-0 decision to Juniata back on October 30.

Schmidt coolly hit a red hot efficient .609 for the match and had a hand in four of Juniata's 9.0 total team blocks, earning tournament Most Outstanding Player honors in the process. Over the three matches, Schmidt logged 30 kills on 56 swings with only three attack errors - a .482 attack percentage for the tournament.

"We knew she (Schmidt) had it in her; she's like that every day in practice, and she just brought it today - she let it loose," said senior defensive specialist Molly Sollenberger.

"Amanda's lit it up in practice all year, and it's been a little bit of a head-scratcher what's happened in competition. And something happened late last week - we don't know what it was, but Schmidt just sort of came alive. And how much fun was that," said Bock.

Sophomore outside hitter Drew Barnhart logged 13 kills for Juniata with three blocks, while freshman middle Kelsey Fuller tacked on 12 kills. Junior setter Steph Strauss ran a Juniata offense that hit .233 for the match, and recorded 51 assists in the process. She was named to the Juniata Regional All-Tournament Team, along with senior libero Megan Sollenberger. Sollenberger turned up 22 digs in the championship match.

Courtney Reinhold paced the Eastern (32-5) offense with 17 kills on 48 swings, but also committed a match-high nine attack errors. Freshman middle Rachel Wenger tallied nine kills on 33 swings. Both players had three blocks, and represented Eastern on the All-Tournament Team.

Juniata was pushed by Eastern in the first two sets, with Juniata pulling away in the latter stages of the frame on both occasions.

In the first set, Juniata led by just one point at 19-18, following back-to-back kills by Eastern setter Maria Horning. But Juniata responded with three straight kills - by Strauss, junior middle Kristin Noetzel, and senior opposite Paige Johnston - to take a quick four-point lead. Juniata had two unsuccessful cracks at set point, until a Johnston kill sealed the set.

In the second set, another three-kill run by Strauss, Barnhart and Schmidt widened Juniata's lead to 12-6, and Juniata controlled the set the rest of the way.

The third set required extra points to produce an Eastern victory - the first time Eastern has claimed a set off Juniata since 2003 - after Eastern squandered an 18-10 lead. Juniata finally caught Eastern at 24-24, and had a 25-24 lead after a Reinhold attack error. A pair of side out points advanced the Juniata lead to 26-25, but a Reinhold kill knotted the set at 26-26. Attack errors by Juniata's Kelsey Fuller and Johnston allowed Eastern to grab the set.

"You know darn well that good teams, with their backs to the wall, are going to be fighting for their athletic lives," said Juniata head coach Larry Bock. "It was probably just as much Eastern getting a lot of quality touches on the blocks, a lot of digs, great swings... and we were a little reticent during that time. Realistically, we had a swing for match point in set three, and that was a little scary when that didn't happen."

In the fourth set, Eastern held a 14-12 lead following a Wenger kill, and a fifth set started looking like a possibility between the two regional rivals. A kill by senior outside hitter Michelle Morchesky pulled Juniata to within one, and a block by Noetzel and Fuller knotted the set at 14-14.

Four straight side out points moved the score to 16-16. With Morchesky serving, Juniata proceeded to post the next six points - including one on a Morchesky service ace - to grab a 22-16 lead, and effective control of the set. Four more side out points put Juniata on match point at 24-18, and Fuller brought Juniata home with a kill to end the match.

"Morchesky was a life saver today," said Bock. "She has a very hard job; she backs up in two positions, and she came in and just steadied the ship. It was a different team with her out there on the court."

Rounding out the Juniata Regional All-Tournament Team was Frostburg State's Brooke Winterling and Mount Union's Sarah Parker.


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