Nov. 19, 2009

Courtesy of Juniata Athletics

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Juniata College had no answers for Trinity University's middles. Trinity had no solutions for Juniata's pin hitters.

In the end, the Juniata pin hitters won out. To the tune of a .521 hitting percentage.

That's what Juniata sophomore outside hitter Drew Barnhart and senior opposite Paige Johnston combined to hit against Trinity of Texas, as Juniata downed the Tigers 3-0 in their quarterfinal match of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship at John Carroll University's DeCarlo Varsity Center.

Set scores for the Eagles were 25-16, 27-25, and 25-23.

Juniata (35-3) advances to Friday night's 7:00 p.m. national semifinal match, where it will play the winner of Thursday's final quarterfinal match between the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Christopher Newport University (Va).

Barnhart tallied 20 kills on 30 swings with just one error, hitting .633 for the match. Johnston tacked on eight kills on 18 swings, hitting .333 from the right side. Their combined .521 hitting percentage buoyed Juniata to a .396 team attack percentage - third-highest attack percentage in a match this season, trailing only its performance against Landmark Conference foes Susquehanna University (.407) and Moravian College (.415).

Barnhart's 20 kills were the most by any Juniata player in a match this season.

"I didn't know I hit that well," said Barnhart. "I knew I had a good game, and that I started off well. It's nice to see numbers like that."

Trinity (30-12) countered offensively with middle hitter Aly Hazelwood with 11 kills on 25 swings for a .360 hitting percentage, while middle Ginger Haley logged eight kills on 16 swings with no attack errors - good enough for a .500 hitting clip.

Much of their damage came in the second and third sets, when Haley was 6-0-11 and Hazelwood was 9-2-20 on attacks. Both figured heavily into a Tiger offense that took Juniata into extra points in the second set, and took the Eagles to the brink in the third.

"Their middle hitters were eating us for lunch," said Juniata head coach Larry Bock. "They're very good. They're as good as we've seen all year at that position."

Trinity held a slight lead as late as 21-20 in the third set, until a Trinity attack error knotted the set at 21-21. A kill by Juniata freshman middle Kelsey Fuller, followed by back-to-back Tiger attack errors, put the Eagles on match point at 24-21. Two points later, Barnhart whipped down a kill to end the match.

"I love the end of games where it's tight," said Barnhart. "I love to go out and crush balls have fun with it."

Juniata's outside hitters weren't alone in getting into the act offensively; as Trinity tried to load up defensively on Barnhart, the Eagle middles started flexing their muscles a little bit.

Sophomore middle Amanda Schmidt, who earned Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors at last weekend's Juniata Regional, recorded eight kills on 18 swings with one error. All eight of her kills were in the second and third sets, after she hit 0-0-5 in the opening frame.

Junior Kristin Noetzel added five kills on nine swings, with a 3-0-4 effort in the second set. Fuller totaled eight kills in the match on 26 swings.

"We had to push middle some more to open up the outside again for Drew," said junior setter Steph Strauss. "The middles really helped open up the court for the hitters."

Strauss finished the match with 43 assists, to go with 12 digs. Senior libero Megan Sollenberger had 15 digs, leading a Juniata defense that tallied 55 digs to Trinity's 35.

"I think both teams were on offensively, but the difference in this match was that Juniata was also on defensively," said Trinity head coach Julie Jenkins. "I also think they (Juniata) stayed in system a little better than we did."

Juniata captured the second set by getting three of its final four points on a pair of kills by Barnhart, including one on set point.

With Trinity holding a 24-23 lead, a Schmidt kill tied the set at 24-24. A Barnhart kill gave the Eagles a 25-24 lead serving for the set, but Trinity's Hazelwood pulled the Tigers even at 25-all. A service error by Trinity's Meredith Erwin again put Juniata in position to serve for the set, setting the stage for Barnhart to finish the job.

Trinity forced the extra points after battling back from a four-point deficit at 11-7, eventually catching Juniata at 12-12 on an Amy Mittlestaedt service ace. The Tigers did not allow the Eagles to take more than a one-point lead until the end of the match, and even held a 16-14 advantage following a Madison McMahon kill.

Juniata dominated the opening set, breaking open a slender 4-3 advantage and jumping out to a 9-3 lead with Megan Sollenberger serving. Barnhart accounted for four kills during that Juniata run, which left the Eagles in command of the set.

"We played Trinity three weeks ago, at the end of October, and this is a completely different team," said Bock. "They're really much more offensive, and their ball control is much improved from what it had been then. That was a good win over a really good team."