Kepler, Miller help Juniata to 3-1 win against Gallaudet in NCAA tourney
HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata grinded through its NCAA Division III tournament first-round matchup with Gallaudet and came away with the 3-1 (25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 25-14) win Friday. In the first home NCAA tournament match in the careers of all current Juniata players, the Eagles didn't disappoint the home crowd, advancing to the second round where they will face Stevenson at 6 p.m. ET Saturday. Juniata now leads the all-time series against the Bison 11-1 and is 4-0 against Gallaudet in NCAA tournament play.
Rotating in the opposite position, Kepler helped drive the Eagles to an 8-6 lead in the second set with her strong serving and a series of terminations. Gallaudet kept the set close, pulling to within one at 11-10 Juniata, but the Eagles maintained their lead through a number of strong defensive plays. Freshman Nakita Gearhart put down a commanding kill to give the Eagles a five-point lead at 21-16 and the front row stayed strong on the block to take the second set 25-19.
The third set opened in similar back-and-forth fashion as the first, with the teams tying at 3, 6 and 7 before Gallaudet took back-to-back points for the 9-7 lead. The match went through another run of ties from 10-10 all the way to 16 all before the Bison pulled away to 21-17, forcing a second Juniata timeout in the set. A final service ace from Gallaudet claimed the third set 25-19.
Sophomore Bryce Arnold started the fourth set with a strong service run to light a fire under the Eagles. Juniata took the early 6-2 lead and at 9-5, senior Rachelle Wiegand started a service run of her own to take a commanding 15-5 lead. After two points in a row by Gallaudet, Phillips slammed a kill to end the thoughts of a Bison upset. Miller and Gearhart at the net overpowered the Bison with quick-set kills and strong swings. Gallaudet fought off three match points before Kepler pounded down the 25th point for the win.