Nov. 15, 2010

FROSTBURG, Md. -- A quick glance at the set scores from Juniata College's clash with Frostburg State University in the regional championship match of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship might suggest that it was, for at least two sets, a well-played, nip-and-tuck, nail-biter of a match.

Not so much.

Juniata remained composed in the face of a scappy Frostburg State side and posted a 3-0 victory on Sunday afternoon at FSU's Bobcat Arena, in a match that made up in grit what it may have lacked in artistry.

Set scores for Juniata were 25-20, 25-22, and 25-14.

In reality, the Eagles (33-5) were able to run their offense effectively and for the most part hold their shape defensively. On the Frostburg (34-4) side of the court, the host Bobcats were scrambling to get to the ball and keep rallies going in the hope of getting the point.

"There was a weird tempo and flow to the whole thing, and they were a very, very athletic version of the team we played yesterday, Lebanon Valley," said Juniata head coach Larry Bock. "They played really hard and really well at different times, and our team responded well in a different kind of way for a Juniata team �?" we blocked. I thought we blocked and we served well, and in the end that turned around those first two games."

The first two sets were certainly tight affairs on the scoreboard, with each side able to post a slight lead in the early stages before trading it back across the net with Juniata eventually coming out on top.

"I think we were pretty confident the whole match that we were going to win," said senior setter Steph Strauss. "We just played it slow and steady and took it one point at a time, and eventually we always got a run that pulled us ahead."

In set one, Frostburg's 16-14 lead began to disappear with a side-out kill by junior middle Amanda Schmidt (Boswell, Pa./North Star), then turned into a 19-16 advantage for Juniata (33-5) with four straight points off the serve of junior libero Libby Morrison (Portland, Ore./Oregon Episcopal School). Strauss and senior Kristin Noetzel (Closter, N.J./Northern Valley Regional) combined on a pair of blocks on the run, while Strauss added a dump kill on a joust at the net.

A pair of Juniata error allowed Frostburg to get two of those points back to cut the margin to 19-18, but the Eagles answered with a Drew Barnhart (Titusville, Pa./Titusville) kill and a double block by Noetzel and Barnhart. A kill by Frostburg setter Kylie Carrington coupled with a Juniata attack error cut the Juniata lead to one point, 21-20.

Juniata proceeded to score four straight points to clinch the set, finishing with a pair of service aces by Barnhart.

Set two started off slow all the way to a 5-5 tie, but then broke heavily in Frostburg's favor with an 8-2 run that left the Bobcats holding a 13-7 advantage. FSU's high-flying and hard-hitting outside hitter Sarah Stevens recorded three kills during the Bobcat run, which eventually ended on a Noetzel kill that cut the deficit to 13-8.

Juniata eventually regained a lead, 17-16, on a four-point run that was triggered by a Frostburg attack error. Schmidt continued things with a kill, followed by a Schmidt and Strauss double-block and a Strass termination.

The two teams traded side-out points, advancing the score to 18-17, then the Eagles pounded out four straight points on a Schmidt kill, a Taylor Harpster (Philipsburg, Pa./Philipsburg-Osceola) ace, and a pair of Bobcat errors, to take a 22-17 lead.

Frostburg State forced Juniata to play eight points to get the three it needed to clinch the set. But after a Stephens attack error, Noetzel put away a kill down the line to put the Eagles on set point, and four points later Harpster whipped the ball down onto Frostburg's floor with her attack up the middle to wrap up the set.

The effects of Frostburg's five-set match the night before against SUNY Cortland began to show in set three, as Juniata jumped out to a 7-2 lead and never looked back. Freshman hitter Amy Miller (Chesapeake, Va./Western Branch) came off the bench and gave the Eagles some swings off a fresh arm in the opening flurry, and recorded back-to-back thunderous kills.

A 10-2 Juniata run, which included two kills each by Schmidt and Strauss with an ace by Harpster, left the Eagles with a 17-6 advantage. A 5-2 run by Frostburg eventually cut the margin to 22-13, but Juniata scored three of the final four points and sewed up the win on a Stephens attack error.

Schmidt and Kelsey Fuller (Red Lion, Pa./Red Lion) each finished with eight kills, with Strauss having a hand on four blocks and Fuller logged two block solos. Schmidt logged seven kills with three blocks. Strauss had 28 assists while running an Eagle offense that hit .255, while Morrison sprawled for 20 digs.

Frostburg hit .057 for the match, including a -.103 attack percentage in the third set. Juniata successfully bottled up Stephens, who had been averaging well over four kills per set while hitting over .250, to just eight kills on 33 swings and a .030 attack clip.

"Heather (Pavlik) and Larry (Bock) definitely saw that in their scouting report," said Schmidt. "They said that most of the swings would be going to no. 3 (Stephens) whether she was front row or back row, so we definitely focused on making sure we knew whether she was front row or back row and having a solid block on her the whole time to shut that down."

The win sends Juniata into the national quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship for the 30th straight year. The Eagles will face St. Thomas (Minn.) in Friday's first quarterfinal at 1:30 p.m. ET at the Washington University Field House in St. Louis, Mo.