Lessen
EC

ELMHURST, Ill. -- Elmhurst punched its ticket to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament with a 25-19, 25-19, 25-22 victory against Washington (Mo.) in the championship match of the NCAA Midwest Regional.

"I am so proud of this team," head coach Julie Hall said. "They came prepared to play and really stepped up today."

The win marks the Bluejays farthest advancement in the NCAA tournament under Hall's direction.

In the opening set, the two teams traded points to a tie at six before Washington edged ahead 12-9. Elmhurst answered back with an 8-4 run to even the set at 17-17. A kill from Antonéya Veasy Smith and an ace from Erin Thill put the Bluejays on top 19-17 forcing Washington to burn a timeout.

After Washington pulled to within a point at 19-18, the Bluejays rattled off three consecutive points off two kills from Veasy Smith and an ace from Hannah Lessen. Washington pulled to within three points at 22-19, but Elmhurst scored the final three points to take the first set 25-19.

The second set started in similar fashion to the opening set. With the score tied at six, Elmhurst opened up a two-point lead on a kill from Sam Szarmach and a Washington error. After a timeout from the Bears, the Bluejays used a 4-0 run, keyed by a pair of aces from Lessen, to take a 16-10 lead. The Bluejays built an eight-point cushion at 21-13 and pulled away from the 25-19 win.

The third set began with a tie at six, but five unanswered Elmhurst points off kills from Szarmach, Marci Novak, Kaitlyn Wilks and a pair of aces from Novak gave the Bluejays an 11-6 lead. Washington got within two points at 14-12, but the Bluejays quickly pushed their lead back to five points at 19-14.

Washington closed the gap to just two points at 22-20, but back-to-back kills from Megan Reynolds set up match point for the Bluejays. The Bears fought off a pair of match points to pull to within two points at 24-22, but Novak pounded home the match-winning kill to give the Bluejays the Regional Championship.

Elmhurst hit .327 as a team, finishing with 47 kills and committing only 10 errors in the match. Washington totaled 42 kills and 12 errors. The Bluejays picked up nine points off of service aces.

Reynolds led Elmhurst with 11 kills and a pair of blocks in the win, earning tournament MVP honors in the process. Wilks and Szarmach joined her on the all-tournament team.

Wilks totaled eight kills and two blocks, while Szarmach finished with eight kills and 12 digs. Veasy Smith and Novak totaled seven kills apiece for the Bluejays. Thill finished with a team-leading 22 assists while Katie Reuffer added 16. Hannah Lessen added a team-leading 18 digs.

"We really played well together as a team," Wilks said. "This was one of our best performances of the year, but I believe we can still play better."

Washington was led by Drew Hargrave's 14 kills. Emily Tulloch added 11 kills while Tanya Marvi finished with 15 digs.