(Posted September 24, 2010)

ST. DAVIDS, Pa. -- It was hot, it was loud, and the stands were filled to capacity on Friday night at Eastern University's Gym as second-ranked Juniata College women's volleyball came-a-calling for a matchup with sixth-ranked Eastern University.

There was an estimated 900 fans in the gym, standing two or three deep along the back walls and between bleacher sections. Eastern officials guessed it was close to the largest crowd to see an athletic event in the gym; players serving had their backs right against the crowd. Couldn't find room to even stand and watch the match? Eastern provided a closed-circuit telecast onto a screen in an adjacent gym.

And except for the small contingent of fans in blue and gold, most of those 900 fans went home unhappy, much sooner than they expected.

Juniata completed a comeback win in the first set and let the momentum carry it to a 3-0 shutout of the host Eastern Eagles, winning by set scores of 25-23, 25-18, and 25-22.

Juniata (12-1) hit .223 for the match, led by outside hitter Drew Barnhart's (Titusville, Pa./Titusville) 10 kills.

Middles Kristin Noetzel (Closter, N.J./Northern Valley Regional) and Amanda Schmidt (Boswell, Pa./North Star), and opposite Kelsey Fuller (Red Lion, Pa./Red Lion) each finished with eight kills. Libero Libby Morrison (Portland, Ore./Oregon Episcopal School) sprawled for 19 digs, while setter Steph Strauss (Penn Hills, Pa./Penn Hills) logged 30 assists.

Juniata held Eastern to just .192 hitting for the night, with All-America pin hitter Courtney Reinhold held to a .121 attack percentage and nine terminations.

"It was a great atmosphere and our team was forced to get a little bit tougher tonight," said Juniata head coach Larry Bock. "Two weeks ago, I don't know if we win this match."

Juniata was tested early, trailing virtually the entire first set. Eastern was just two points away from the set one win at 23-20, following a kill by sophomore outside hitter Rachel Wenger. Juniata stopped the bleeding with a Strauss kill, one of her six on the night, to cut the score to 23-21.

Then Amy Miller (Chesapeake, Va./Western Branch) stepped up to serve.

The Juniata freshman outside hitter drilled serve after serve at Eastern freshman pin hitter Kearby Benak, who struggled to receive Miller's offering. Those serves eventually led to back-to-back kills by Barnhart and a third by Schmidt, putting Juniata on set point, 24-23.

An attack error by Reinhold allowed Juniata to steal the set, and let some of the air out of the otherwise fired-up Eastern crowd.

Juniata used a late run to capture the second set, stretching an 18-16 lead by adding Barnhart and Strauss kills onto side-out points. A Noetzel kill put Juniata on set point, with a Strauss service ace clinching the set.

Juniata saw a commanding seven-point lead vanish in the third set, as Eastern Benak posted four kills over the final 12 points to bring Eastern back into the set. Eastern pulled within two points of Juniata at 21-19, with Miller answering for Juniata. An attack error by Eastern's Mary Poole allowed Juniata to stretch its lead to 23-19, but Eastern responded with three straight kills by Benak, setter Maria Horning, and Poole to pull within one point of Juniata at 23-22.

Strauss put down a kill to give Juniata match point, and Morrison served up her only ace of the day to seal the win.

"Set two was very workman-like - I really liked set two," said Bock. "Set three we were forced to hang on for dear life."

Benak also tallied nine kills for Eastern, while Horning racked up 29 assists. Reinhold led Eastern with 10 digs, with libero Kelly Groff turning up eight.

Juniata and Eastern (15-1) will face each other again this season, on Saturday, Oct. 23, on day two of Juniata's Wid Guisler Invitational. Bock expects the rematch to be even better than Friday night's clash in St. Davids.

"I don't think either team played its best volleyball tonight," said Bock.


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