University of La verne 3, Wittenberg 0

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LA VERNE, Calif. - Perhaps it all finally caught up with the Wittenberg volleyball team. Denied the opportunity to host an NCAA Division III Tournament match for a second straight week, the Tigers traveled more than 2,000 miles to the University of La verne and couldn't come up with the goods in a shocking 3-0 defeat.

The loss capped the best season in Wittenberg history three wins shy of the ultimate goal of a national championship. The Tigers, champions of the North Coast Athletic Conference regular season and tournament for the eighth straight year, had no answers for an outstanding La Verne team that will now make its third trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament Final Four in the last four years. Wittenberg's final record stands at 35-3, while La Verne, champions of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for a fifth straight year in 2004, move on with a 32-3 overall record.

Playing before a packed house filled with boisterous Leopard fans, the Tigers looked disjointed from the outset. La Verne took control with the match tied at 4-4 in the first game, winning several points in a row with a blocking and defensive scheme that threw the Tigers completely off their game. Wittenberg made a stunning 12 attack errors in 41 chances in the first game, and La Verne's blockers were outstanding in spearheading a dominating 30-16 win.

In the second game, Wittenberg started out better, but a big La Verne run midway through it fired up the crowd and provided significant momentum. While Wittenberg fought its way through the Leopards' blocking schemes better, the Tigers still couldn't attack with enough efficiency or defend La Verne's many offensive weapons. The Leopards seized a demoralizing 2-0 lead with a 30-25 game victory.

Wittenberg, with its five seniors rallying the troops, seemed to regain its composure in Game 3, pulling out to leads as large as six points. But everything disintegrated suddenly, starting with a 20-16 Wittenberg advantage. La Verne won 11 of the next 12 points as the crowd came to life and the Leopards forced the Tigers back on their heels again. Wittenberg rallied to within 28-26 before La Verne scored the final two points on kills to advance to the Final Four.

The final statistics told the story. Wittenberg committed a whopping 33 attack errors, by far a season high, compared to 13 for La Verne. The Tigers' attack percentage was a stunningly low .022. Senior outside hitter Monica McDonald was high in kills with 12, the only Tigers in double figures in that category as four other players finished in negative numbers for attack percentage. Senior setter Sarah Yuskewich distributed 30 assists, and three players finished in double figures in digs, led by senior libero Emilie Schmid with 21.

--Courtesy Wittenberg