HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- A red-hot hitting Juniata team registered a 3-1 (18-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-22) victory against SUNY New Paltz in the semifinals of the NCAA Division III championships on Saturday evening at the Kennedy Sports Center.
The No. 3-seeded Eagles were torrid in their attack game against the No. 2-seeded Hawks. Juniata hit .447 for the match, including a .556 mark in the all-important and deciding fourth set. With the victory, not only did Juniata avenge a 3-0 loss to New Paltz in March, but squashed a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 championship final, as top-seed Springfield swept Carthage 3-0 earlier in the day to reach the Sunday 2 p.m. ET final against Juniata.New Paltz finishes one of the finest seasons in school history with a 28-4 record, highlighted by its first appearance in the NCAA championship and a United Volleyball Conference (UVC) title. The Hawks came into the NCAA championships as the second-ranked team in the country. Juniata raises its record to 29-4.
Senior outside hitter Brian Smith led the Hawks with 11 kills. Sophomore Christopher Husmann had 11 kills and hit .400. Junior John Lutjen had 28 set assists and six digs.
Playing before a raucous home crowd, Juniata had two players earn double figures in kills, led by 6-7 junior outside hitter Paul Kuhn, who had 17 kills on 27 swings and a .519 attack percentage. Freshman Kameron Beans earned 13 kills with just two errors, a .478 attack effort. The architect of Juniata's 55 kills was sophomore setter Matt Elias, who had 48 set assists.
After dropping the first set, Juniata made it difficult for New Paltz, the Eagles had 13 total team blocks, and several key stops in the fourth set when New Paltz was battling back from an early 12-9 deficit.
Down 1-0 in the match, Juniata roared back to win three consecutive sets, and fought off a New Paltz comeback in the fourth. The final set was tied six times, the last time at 16-16. The Hawks took a brief lead at 16-15 following a Juniata error, but could never gain a lead. A sideline kill by Brian Smith brought New Paltz within 19-18, but Juniata won five of the next six points to hold match point on a kill by Kuhn. An Eagle miscue, followed by a kill from sophomore Tim Ferriter cut the deficit by two, but Kuhn answered with a kill down the middle for the match victory.
Juniata changed the match dynamics and momentum with a strong second set, hitting .526 on 12 kills and just two attack errors. A Brian Smith kill tied the set 5-5, but that would be the last time. The Hawks cooled down from a .517 first set to 0.97 and Juniata took full advantage, leading 22-12 at late in the set.
The third set was tied just four times, the last at 12-12. Juniata rode the play of Kuhn and Beans and capitalized on a .107 hitting stanza by the Hawks.
New Paltz opened the match with a strong statement, hitting .517 and earning an impressive 25-18 victory. It was a start-to-finish victory, as Juniata never led in the set. Brian Smith had his strongest set, earning six kills.