La Verne 3, NYU 1Â


ROCHESTER, Minn. For the University of La Verne volleyball team, Saturday's NCAA Division III national tournament match against New York University was its toughest match of the season.

And it had nothing to do with the Leopards' opponent.

Less than 24 hours after having their hopes of a berth in the national championship match, the Leopards regrouped, refocused, and took out their frustrations on the Violets, cruising to a 3-1 (30-25, 28-30, 30-28, 30-23) victory to win the NCAA Division III National Championships third-place match.

"It was tough mentally for the first half of the day we were wiping off residue from (Friday's match vs. Washington (Mo.) University)," said La Verne coach Don Flora, whose team had its 15-match winning streak snapped in the 3-0 loss to Washington U. "In warm-ups, we looked like we were having a good time and that was important for us to enjoy the moment."

It may have been enjoyable for Flora and La Verne, but the Leopards' performance made life anything but fun for NYU.

The Leopards (33-4), who struggled offensively in their semifinal loss to Washington (Mo.) University hitting a lowly .048 (36-for-145) turned up the heat against NYU, collecting 55 kills on 154 attempts (.253), while also taking advantage of NYU's self-destructive play. The Violets, who close out the season with a 40-7 overall record, hammered out 74 kills, but also committed 27 attack errors, as well as 18 service errors.

"This was our last match and we wanted to make sure we ended our season with no regrets," said La Verne's Sara Lupa. "And we wanted to have fun doing it."

Amy Kratochvil led the way for La Verne, posting 16 kills and a .262 attack percentage, while Tricia Schary chipped in 12 kills and a .393 attack percentage, and Amanda Thomas dished out 45 assists and had a team-leading 14 digs.

The Leopards, who picked up their fourth NCAA third-place trophy and improved to 35-16 in tournament play, opened with an impressive 30-25 Game 1 win. After five lead changes, the last at 17-17, La Verne took the lead for good, 18-17, and scored 12 of the game's final 20 points.

NYU bounced back to win Game 2, a game that was tied 15 times, but the Leopards regained the momentum, leading from start to finish to win Game 3, then iced the win with a lopsided 30-23 triumph in the fourth and final game.

"There are 520 teams that would love to be sitting here right now," said Flora. "I can't say enough about how hard these ladies worked all season."

The loss overshadowed a stellar performance from NYU's Elena Drinka, who hit .409, collecting a match-high 23 kills and 12 digs. Jennifer Gardikas chipped in 15 kills and 14 digs, and Katya Khmelnitskaya dished out 59 assists and 14 digs.

"For a consolation match, this was a heck of a match," said NYU coach Ed Caesar. "We had a few serving problems and our passing was a little off.

"Our goal was to get to the championship match and we didn't do it," continued Caesar, whose team dropped a 3-0 decision to Juniata in Friday's semifinals. "We played our hardest and you can't feel bad about that. For any team to get to the final four in the nation is an accomplishment."

-- Courtesy St. Mary's U.