Dec. 5, 2008

Courtesy of Cincinnati Athletics

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Behind a season-high 22 kills from sophomore Stephanie Niemer (Erlanger, Ky./St. Henry), the University of Cincinnati volleyball team defeated Western Kentucky in five sets (25-13, 25-19, 21-25, 18-25, 15-10) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening in Champaign, Ill. Niemer recorded six kills in the fifth set to help lead the Bearcats to the program's second NCAA Tournament victory.

A pair of freshman Missy Harpenau (Cincinnati, Ohio/Mother of Mercy) service aces and two UC blocks helped the Bearcats take a 6-1 lead in the opening set. Two kills from sophomore Lindsay Upton (Cincinnati, Ohio/Mount Notre Dame) followed by two Lady Topper attack errors pushed UC out to a 13-6 advantage, forcing a WKU timeout.

With an eight-point lead, 19-11, kills by Niemer, senior Jessica Elley (Gilbert, Ariz./Gilbert), and Upton widened the Bearcat lead to 12 points, 23-11, before another Elley kill and a Lady Topper service error gave UC the first set, 25-13. Cincinnati (27-6) hit .600 in the opening set, connecting on 16 kills in 25 attempts with just one error.

After both teams combined for seven miscues in the first 13 points, it took consecutive kills by Elley to give Cincinnati a 9-6 lead. Western Kentucky (26-10) cut the Bearcat lead to one point four times before the media timeout, with the last at 14-13, before a Niemer kill gave UC a 15-13 lead heading into the timeout.

Coming out of the timeout, a service ace by Upton followed by a block from senior Jessie Nevitt (Kennesaw, Ga./Kennesaw Mountain) and Elley and a solo block by Nevitt extended the Bearcat lead to five points, 18-13, forcing WKU to use its first timeout of the set.

Holding on to a two-point lead, 20-18, Niemer helped seal the deal in the second set. A kill by Niemer down the line, followed by a Niemer kill off the block put UC up by four points, 22-18. After a WKU kill and service error, a kill by Niemer through the seam followed by a cross-court kill from Elley closed out the set, 25-19.

The third set was tight in the opening stages until the Lady Toppers put together a few mini scoring runs to take a 15-10 lead into the media timeout. Western Kentucky's lead got as large as 10 points, 22-12, before three service aces by freshman Kelsey Brandl (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North) led a six-point spurt that brought UC within four points, 22-18. The Bearcats closed within three points, 24-21, but a Lady Topper kill gave WKU a 25-21 third-set win, sending the match to a fourth set.

Tied at 3-3 in the fourth set, kills by Harpenau, Nevitt, and Niemer, coupled with a block from Niemer and Nevitt pushed the Bearcats to a 7-3 lead, forcing a Lady Topper timeout. Western Kentucky quickly tied the set at 7-7, before eventually taking a 17-13 lead, forcing Cincinnati to use a timeout. The four-point deficit proved to be too much to overcome as Western Kentucky took the fourth set, 25-18.

Cincinnati jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the fifth set courtesy of its youth. Upton, Harpenau, and Niemer all collected kills to help push UC to the five-point cushion. After WKU closed within two points, 12-10, consecutive kills by Niemer followed by a WKU attack error gave Cincinnati the 15-10 fifth-set win, moving UC into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Niemer led the way with 22 kills, while junior Jaime Frey (Cincinnati, Ohio/Roger Bacon) finished with a team-high 13 digs. Nevitt ended with six kills and 11 total blocks.

Cincinnati plays the winner of the No. 9 Illinois/Milwaukee match at 7 p.m. (CT) on Saturday, Dec. 6, for the right to move on to the Sweet 16.