Nov. 20, 2009

D-III Sidebar: Fiedler's Through The Roof

By Justice B. Hill
Special to

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio – Erin Albers didn’t have the look of exhaustion etched into her face. She wore a smile instead, as well as a look of relief after she and her Washington University teammates waged a five-set struggle Friday night to keep their hopes for an NCAA Division III volleyball championship alive.

“Heart is what’s going to win this tournament,” said Albers, a senior.

For heart is the only explanation for the 25-21, 22-25, 15-25, 27-25, 15-12 win over Hope College that kept Albers and the Bears on the path to winning the school’s 10th national championship. The final here on Saturday will pit Washington University against the Wisconsin-Oshkosh vs. Juniata winner.

“Boy, what a great match!” Washington coach Rich Luenemann said.

Luenemann was right. His storied program had all it could handle from coach Becky Schmidt’s upstart team, which was in the tournament for the first time in its history.

In the opening set, Hope College seemed as if the moment had gotten the best of it. The score didn’t reflect the sloppiness the Flying Dutch displayed in that 21-25 loss, but their jitters in Game 1 would continue.

The Flying Dutch turned around a .167 hitting percentage behind the superb play of middle hitter Jacie Fiedler, who dominated, proving a powerful force around the net.

“(Fielder) caused problems for us all day long,” he said. “A great hitter – she could very well be the MVP of the tournament.”

Fiedler will get many MVP votes, but Washington U. isn’t going to be short of worthy candidates. either. For it was a team effort that Luenemann relied on in turning a losing position into a stop in the title game.

“After going down 2-1 in games and being behind in Game 4, just the resolve the team showed to catch up …” he said. “We never let up; we just kept pushing,  pushing and pushing.”

And they showed heart.

More seasoned at big-time volleyball than Hope, Washington rallied around the message Albers said it took into the game: don’t lose heart.

A good message to rally around, if the players will. No coach can be certain his players will grab hold of their emotions and not let the moment overwhelm them, particularly when staring down the barrel of a season-ending loss.

“We talk about momentum and focus,” Luenemann said. “But I think what happened was we talked about getting excited and stuff but maintaining focus and knowing what kind of balls we need to be swinging at and score – not let being a point ahead or a point behind bother us.

“We got our focus back and started running attack options. We got our offensive focus back.”    
The best example of what he meant was the closing points of the fourth set. Victory was in sight for Hope, which needed a point here or there late to land in the championship.

But Washington cashed in Lauren Budde’s kill for a 26-25 lead, and it won the set and tied the match when Hope outsider hitter Sara DeWeerdt mishandled Kelly Pang’s serve.

Now, both teams were a set from victory: But it was Washington that got to celebrate, holding up down the stretch as Hope unraveled a bit.

“I’m proud of our team ‘cause we got down several times in the match,” Albers said. “It would have been really easy to give up and lose those games. But we fought, and we came back.”