By Judd Spicer
Special to NCAA.com


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Seventy three games ago, Concordia-St. Paul began the longest win streak in the history of D-III women's volleyball. It started, as most streaks do, without fanfare, as the Bears recovered from a season-opening loss to Cal St. San Bernardino in 2008 to start the year at 1-1.

On Friday, nearly 1,400 fans filed in for the second national semifinal match at the Division II championships between those same two teams, in a game that featured the same Bernardino team squaring off against two-time defending national champion Concordia in a rematch of last year's national title game, won by the Golden Bears.

The Coyotes were again denied their vengeance as Concordia advanced to its third consecutive championship game, dropping the first set but storming back to win a hotly contested match 3-1. After taking the first set 25-20, San Bernardino lost the next three by increasingly closer margins, falling 25-18, 25-22, 25-23.

Concordia extended its victory streak to 73 consecutive matches. The Golden Bears' last defeat came against the Coyotes in their opening match of last season.

In defeat, the Coyotes were led by 17 kills and 16 digs from junior outside hitter and first-team All-American Jane Chafeh, while fellow All-American Sara Hoffman tallied 47 assists from her setter's position. Coming into the Elite Eight, San Bernardino led the nation in hitting percentage at .331, but it mustered only.199 Friday night.

"I just want to congratulate Concordia," said Bernardino coach Kim Cherniss. "It must be wonderful for them, two years in a row to be able to play this match on their home court.  They played a fantastic match.

"We didn't handle the ball very well in the second set. We didn't serve-receive as well as we needed to. And I'm sure they came out on fire a little to start the second, because we handled them a little in the first."

Four Concordia players sported double-digit kills, with Cassie Haag and Sadie Kessler slamming down 12 apiece. Two-time D-II Player of the Year Maggie McNamara followed up her 51-assist quarterfinal line by adding 45 to her all-time division-leading mark, while sophomore Megan Carlson led an active Golden Bears defense with 18 digs.

"To get to this point again and to play each other again is an awesome feat by San Bernardino," said Concordia coach Brady Starkey, adding with a smile of relief, "Their setter is just ridiculous, and I'm just glad she's done."

Analyzing his own team's performance, Starkey said:

"I thought San Bernardino came out really hot and showed a lot of things, and then we showed a lot of poise and composure in trying to shut down the things that were killing us in the first set. Our girls made really good adjustments. I think early on, our block was getting up a little bit late on their middle. We're just not used to seeing that. They have great spacing on their middles. And they run it fast and off the net, so it makes it doubly difficult to block. Come the second game, we started getting some good touches. As the match wore on, we started dialing in pretty good."

Concordia now tries to become the first team in Divisions I or II to claim the national volleyball championship in three consecutive seasons. Standing in the way will be West Texas A&M, which defeated Flagler in the first semifinal.