HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Kean put a scare into Juniata – the host of the 2014 NCAA Division III championship – but fell in a 3-2 quarterfinal match on Friday night.
The match featured the two best blocking teams in the NCAA. The Eagles, owners of six national championships, are No. 2 nationally while Kean, an upstart fourth-year program, is No. 1 in the country in that stat category.
As the match began, Kean took its first lead at 3-2 on a back-row kill by John Cunningham. But Juniata scored the next four points to hop back ahead. Kean got back to within one on back-to-back kills by Bez Arslani and Tommy Rosario, and the teams reached the match's first media timeout with the Cougars trailing just 15-13 thanks in part to an ace by Rosario.Kean scored the first two points out of the break on a block by Kyle Farley and Ed Jedziniak, making the score 15-all. Paul Kuhn and Arslani dueled on the right side for the next two points, with Kuhn blocking one attack but Arslani pounding one through him on the next point.
Jedziniak tied the set again for Kean at 18, and Kean took its first lead in a long time on Arslani's back-row kill. The Cougars won a fantastic rally on the next point to go up 21-19 and force Juniata to take a timeout.
The Cougars showed why they were the best blocking team in the nation this year on the next two points; Cunningham got a huge solo block on the next one, followed by another stuff by Ron Dunn and Rosario to go up 23-19.
On set point, Dunn dumped an attack over on two that caught the Eagles napping, giving Kean a 25-21 first-set victory.
Rosario began set two with a Kean kill, and the teams were tied at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 before Arslani punched two kills through double-blocks to put Kean up 11-9.
Juniata tied the set at 11, but Farley ran a slide play to keep Kean in front. Arslani had another kill that helped give Kean a 15-14 lead at the media timeout.
In a reversal of the first set, the Eagles came out and scored three in a row out of the break and stole the lead back at 17-15. JC continued its run until Rosario killed a Dunn set to make the count 19-16. But Juniata pulled away for a 25-18 victory in set two to even the match up at one set apiece.
At that point, Joe Bortak and Kuhn had combined for 17 Juniata kills, while Arslani had eight for the Cougars. The teams were hitting .190 (Kean) and .220 (JC) and Kean led the blocking count 8 to 6.
Juniata lept out to a 5-2 lead in the pivotal third set, prompting the Cougars to call timeout. But Kean roared back with four consecutive points of its own, with Roasrio in on back-to-back blocks during the run. The set was tied at five different times in the third set, until Juniata went on a mini-run and carried a two-point lead through the midgame.
But Arslani had a kill and a pair of Juniata errors allowed the Cougars to reverse the lead and go up 16-14. Rosario had two kills to get Kean to 18 and force Juniata to call timeout while down by three.
Both team's setters earned kills on the next two points, and Jedziniak pounded one home to get Kean up 20-17. Farley prevented a tie game with a kill to get to 21, but JC scored the next two to knot the score.
Anther Cougar error put Juniata up one, but Kean went to Jedziniak and he tied the set both at 22 and 23.
Chad Albert killed the 24th point for the Eagles, but it was Jedziniak again who tied the set at 24 for the Cougars. Dunn found Cunningham for a great cross-court kill to get Kean to set point, but Juniata answered and tied it at 25.
After a JC error, Rosario, Dunn and Arslani combined for back-to-back blocks to deliver the invigorating 28-26 set three win.
Kean scored the first two points of set four, but JC quickly recovered and again carried a lead through most of the early points. This time the Eagles hung on to win the set going away to force a winner-take-all fifth. Kuhn and Alex McColgin combined for nine kills in the fourth set for Juniata.
The capacity crowd was on its feet for the whole match in support of the host Eagles, but as the fifth set started the Kennedy Center was rocking with anticipation.
The teams split the first four points, but JC scored the next four of the first-to-15 set to prompt Kean to call timeout.
Out of the break, Jedziniak had a kill and then an ace to get within two, but the Eagles got the next two to make the score 8-4 when the squads shifted sides. Juniata had an answer for everything in the fifth set, and held on to win an entertaining 3-2 match.
Dunn finished with 48 assists and he, Arslani and Jedziniak led the team with 10 digs. Libero Michael Fox had seven digs and Rosario paced the team with seven blocks on the night. Jedziniak finished with team highs in kills (16) while Farley was tops in hitting percentage (.412).