ELMHURST, Ill. — Elmhurst advanced to the Round of 16 of the NCAA tournament by rallying to topple Wisconsin-Whitewater in five sets.
After falling behind 2-1, Elmhurst (31-7) rallied to toppled Wisconsin-Whitewater (26-12) 25-21, 20-25, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11.
Elmhurst opened up a 17-10 in the first set and held on for the 25-21 win. Elmhurst led throughout most of the second set, building a 20-16 advantage, but the Warhawks ripped off nine consecutive points to take the second 25-20.
Whitewater surged ahead in the third set to a six-point advantage. The Bluejays pulled within a point at 23-22, but a pair of Elmhurst errors allowed the Warhawks to score the 25-23 win and take a 2-1 lead.
In the fourth set, the Bluejays trailed 8-7 early, but the Bluejays used an 8-1 run to build a 15-9 advantage behind Antonéya Veasy Smith’s serve. Whitewater pulled to within four points at 21-17, but a kill from Kaitlyn Wilks gave the Bluejays the 25-20 win and sent the match to a fifth set.
The two teams traded points early in the fifth set as the score was knotted at 6. A pair of Whitewater errors along with kills from Wilks and Sam Szarmach put the Bluejays on top 10-7. The Bluejays built an 11-7 lead, before Whitewater used a 3-0 run to close to within a point. With Elmhurst leading 12-11, Szarmach put the ball down to give the Bluejays a 13-11 advantage. Back-to-back errors on Whitewater gave the Bluejays the fifth set and the match.
“We didn’t play particularly well on offense,” head coach Julie Hall said. “But we kept our heads in the match and really showed some determination in coming back and winning in five sets. Whitewater is a very good team and they really frustrated our hitters with their blocking and defense, but we stuck together to come back and win.”
Elmhurst struggled with its hitting for most of the match, committing 37 errors and finishing with a .103 hitting percentage. The Warhawks also struggled, hitting .126 with 35 errors. The Bluejays won the battled at the net with 17 blocks.
Szarmach and Megan Reynolds led Elmhurst’s offense with 12 kills apiece. Szarmach added 13 digs and four blocks while Reynolds finished with a match-high eight blocks. Wilks and Marci Novak finished with 10 kills apiece. Novak added a team-leading 19 digs while Wilks added seven blocks. Veasy Smith totaled eight kills. Katie Rueffer finished with 24 assists while Erin Thill totaled 22 assists and 10 digs. Hannah Lessen added 18 digs for the Bluejays.
Whitewater was led by Leanna Lillge’s 19-kill, 18-dig performance. Kim Frei finished with 36 assists while Kelsey Nobilio totaled 28 digs.