Wittenberg advances to title game
Tigers make their first appearance in national championship
ST. LOUIS -- The third try wasn't the charm for the Wittenberg Tiger volleyball team. Four years later, it was the fourth try.
Stymied in three consecutive NCAA tournament semifinal matches between 2005 and 2007, the Tigers finally cleared the hurdle with a 3-0 (25-21, 25-13, 25-19) victory against Eastern. Wittenberg will play in its first ever national championship volleyball match and first NCAA tournament final of any kind since the 2006 men's basketball title game.
"This is a great feeling for all of us in the program and a wonderful day for this university," said Head Coach Paco Labrador, who now owns a 295-41 record in nine seasons as Wittenberg's head coach. "To be one match away from a national championship is a great reward for a lot of hard work."
It was another efficient offensive performance for the Tigers, against an Eastern squad that Labrador said offered the best defense his team had seen all year. Despite a tremendous scrambling defensive effort by the Eagles, who came into the match ranked fourth nationally but bowed out of the competition at 36-3 overall, Wittenberg still attacked at a solid .327 clip as six different players finished with at least 11 attack attempts.
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Hillary Monnin has provided Wittenberg with quite a lift despite not stepping onto the court this season. Diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in July, this senior has kept her spirits high.
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The setting duo of junior Hallie Donathan and freshman Meghan Vodopich combined for 35 assists with a variety of effective passes to set the table well. Just as importantly, Donathan, who stands 5-foot-5, surprised the Eagles on four separate occasions with quick attacks that fell to the floor.
Donathan is a first-year starter for the Tigers, while Vodopich is in her first year of collegiate volleyball. The tandem, which replaced graduated All-American Amy Cox, has unexpectedly taken the Tigers to the brink of a national title.
"Our setters did a nice job throughout the match, making good decisions and putting our hitters in the right positions," Labrador said. "And then to have Hallie find the holes in their defense, it just made our entire attack that much more effective."
Senior Kimmie Dyer took the most swings for the Tigers, finishing with 11 kills on 32 attack attempts, including the match-winner. She added 10 digs in support of another superlative defensive performance turned in by junior libero Christina Gilene. She acrobatically countered Eastern All-American Courtney Reinhold, finishing with a match-high 18 digs.
The Tigers weren't particularly effective with their block, despite a size advantage, but they did manage to pick up five points that way. Senior middle hitter Katie Sumner collected three block assists, while doing most of her damage on just 11 attack attempts. The second-team All-American put eight of those attacks to the floor for a .727 attack percentage.
Wittenberg advances to a national championship match against Christopher Newport, a 3-0 winner against Carthage in the other semifinal.