SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Cal State San Bernardino played its first five-set match of the season and their first inside their home arena since 2007 and defeated Hillsdale 3-2 (25-19, 23-25, 22-25, 25-20, 15-6) in the national semifinal.
CSUSB will take its 32-0 record into the title match against a familiar foe in four-time defending champion Concordia-St. Paul. The third-ranked Golden Bears earned a 3-1 win against second-ranked Tampa in the night’s first semifinal match.
This was a night that saw CSUSB earn a first-set win, then saw the eighth-ranked Chargers build momentum and remain in control over the next two sets.
Hillsdale ran off six consecutive points, after trailing 1-0 in the second set. CSUSB cut the lead to one on four separate occasions as late as 24-23. But after a Chargers’ timeout, Lauren K. Grover threw down her fourth kill of the set and the match was tied at 1-1.
The Coyotes trailed early in the third after a 5-0 run by Hillsdale put it in the lead at 5-1. The Coyotes battled back and earned a 19-17 lead after an attack error from All-American Ashlee Crowder.
But a kill from Caitlin Kopmeyer and two service aces from Clara Leutheuser put Hillsdale back in command at 21-19 and went on to earn the win with a pair of block assists by Grover and Schuucker.
That 2-1 deficit marked the only time this season that the Coyotes trailed after three sets and if they had any chance of winning, they would need to play their first five-set match at Coussoulis since UC San Diego earned a 3-2 win on Oct. 27, 2007.
A Megan Johnson kill gave CSUSB a 6-5 lead they would not relinquish, despite six service errors in the set. The Coyotes did not let that stat hurt them on the attack as they fired a .432 attack percentage and tied the match at 2-2.
“Every hitter we have is a weapon,” said All-American setter Camille Smith, who had 55 assists with 11 digs. “You really can’t go wrong with anyone.”
CSUSB made sure that it gained momentum from the outset in the fifth set. A kill and an ace from Morgan Carty and two straight solo blocks from National Player of the Year Samantha Middleborn put it up 4-0. Danielle Newcombe added an ace and the Coyotes went on to finish with a decisive fifth-set win.
Middleborn had 22 kills and a .405 percentage, but Johnson was equally dominant. She had 14 kills without an error in 20 attack — a .700 mark.
“It was a little bit frustrating, but our team has the ability to pull out a win,” Johnson said. “i didn’t have any doubt that we could do it.”
The Coyotes now await the title match against the Golden Bears, who have defeated CSUSB in each of the last three seasons at nationals. It promises to be a battle with a program that is gunning for its NCAA Division II record fifth title.