Sept. 19, 2009

Courtesy of bearsports.wustl.edu

St. Louis, Mo. - It was a win four years in the making as the No. 7 Washington University in St. Louis volleyball team upset No. 1 Juniata College, 3-0 (28-26, 41-39, 27-25) in an epic match on Friday night at the WU Field House in St. Louis, Mo. Perhaps the fiercest rivalry in NCAA Division III volleyball, Washington U. had not defeated Juniata since the 2005 season, and the Bears had lost four-straight matches in the storied rivalry, including the 2006 national championship match.

Friday night's victory at the Teri Clemens Invitational may go down as a sweep, but it was anything but easy for Washington University, who set a new NCAA record for most points scored by a team in a three-set match during the 25-point rally scoring era. Washington U. now leads the all-time series with Juniata, 16-13.

The Bears had different key contributors in every set, and found impressive performances at all facets of the game as it upended the previously unbeaten No. 1 team in the nation. A pair of freshmen consistently stood out, setter Marilee Fisher and libero Kelly Pang. Fisher ended the match with 44 assists, eight kills, six digs and three total blocks, while Pang appeared to be omniscient at times on defense, as she racked up 27 digs.

Senior middle hitter Erin Albers had the best night offensively for Washington U., leading the team with 15 kills with a hitting percentage of .286. Albers was also dominant on defense, tallying seven total blocks (three solo, four assists), as the Red and Green totaled 12 team blocks in the match. Sophomores Erin Kasson and Lauren Budde each finished with 12 kills, and Budde recorded a double-double with 12 digs in addition to four blocks.

Washington University was able to set the tone on Friday night by pulling out a very tightly contested first set. Inconsistent play from Juniata helped WU build a 10-5 lead early in that frame, but it would not last as the Eagles steadily closed the gap and eventually took an 18-17 lead.

The Bears came back to tie the score at 20-20 with a kill from sophomore Kristen Thomas and an ace from Budde, and WU was back in front, 23-22, as Fisher blocked down a quick Juniata attack. Juniata rallied to earn match point at 25-24, before Washington U. responded by winning three of the next four points, which featured two kills from Kasson and an ace from Pang that dropped between two Juniata players to clinch the opening set win.

The second set proved to be as tight a contest as Washington U. has ever played, with both teams seeing multiple chances to earn set point slip away before WU finally escaped with a 41-39 win. Twice in the early stages of the frame Juniata led by three points, once at 16-13, and again at 19-16.

Three-straight points from WU tied the second set at 19-19, but Juniata resumed control and had the first match point at 24-23. Junior Marya Kaminski spiked down a Juniata overpass to tie the score at 24 all, and while Juniata was back at match point one play later, Kasson recorded a kill to once again prolong the frame.

A kill from Thomas gave Washington University its first set point of the third at 28-27, but the Bears were unable to convert, and from that point forward the match see-sawed back and forth until WU prevailed in end. The Bears ran out of substitutions as the set dragged along, resulting in 5-foot-2-inch sophomore defensive specialist Tricia Brandt being forced to play three rotations in the front row and even record an attack attempt. Ultimately it was back-to-back kills from Kasson and Budde that sealed the win and put the Red and Green in firm control of the match.

The third-set victory for WU seemed relatively uneventful compared to the events that transpired just moments before, but that is not to say it was completely void of drama. A defensive frenzy that involved six early team blocks propelled the Bears to a commanding lead in the third, and they appeared to be headed to an easy win, leading 21-15.

But earning a sweep over No. 1 Juniata was not going to be that easy, as the Eagles fought back, cutting their deficit to just two points, 22-20, and eventually coming all the way back to knot the score at 23-23. Kaminski returned an overpass for a kill to put WU back on top, 24-23, and give her team an opportunity at match point. Juniata would not relent, tying the score at 24-24, and again at 25-25, leading to back to back tips for scores from Albers that propelled Washington U. to the 27-25 win. Washington U. (9-2) will be back in action at the Teri Clemens Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 19, when the Bears will face two more nationally ranked foes at the WU Field House in St. Louis, Mo. WU squares off with No. 18 University of La Verne at 10 a.m., and will face No. 6 University of St. Thomas in the tournament finale at 5:30 p.m.