Elmhurst sweeps Salisbury, heads to semifinals for first time since 1987
HOLLAND, Mich. – Elmhurst moved one step closer to a national championship by defeating Salisbury 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-18) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Elmhurst improved to 33-7 on the season with the victory and earned its first final-four appearance since the 1987 season. The win was also the Bluejays' 14th consecutive victory.
"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to try and win a national championship," Elmhurst head coach Julie Hall said. "Salisbury came at us with more guns than I think we were expecting and we had to adapt quickly. [Salisbury is] a great team and I give them all the credit for doing their best to take us out of her game."
Elmhurst fell behind 8-4 early in the opening set before mounting a rally. The Bluejays pulled even at 15 and then won the next four points to open up a 19-15 cushion. Elmhurst built a six-point advantage at 22-16 before taking the first set 25-20. Megan Reynolds pounded down seven kills and totaled two blocks to pace Elmhurst's attack in the opening set.
"Megan really helps set the tone for us," Hall said. "She got off to a quick start and carried us in the opening set and that really helped open things up for us on offense."
In the second set, Elmhurst built an 11-7 lead, forcing Salisbury to burn a timeout. The Bluejays kept their four-point lead at the media timeout (15-11) before Salisbury pulled to within two points at 15-13. Elmhurst took a 16-13 lead on a kill from Marci Novak. The two teams traded points over the next 10 serves with the Bluejays maintaining a three-point edge at 21-18. Back-to-back errors on the Sea Gulls and a kill by Kailtlyn Wilks gave the Bluejays six set points. Salisbury fought off one set point, but Sam Szarmach hammered down the final point to give Elmhurst the 25-19 win in the second. The Bluejays hit .275 for the set, committing only three errors in 40 attacks. Novak totaled four kills in the set.
The start of the third set was tight as neither team was able to build more than a one-point advantage for the first 17 serves. Leading 9-8, the Bluejays rattled off three points from kills by Szarmach, Wilks and Katie Rueffer to open up a 12-8 advantage. Salisbury closed to a two-point deficit at 17-15, but the Bluejays used a 4-0 run off of a Salisbury error, two kills from Wilks and a kill from Antonéya Veasy Smith to open up a 21-15 lead. The Bluejays pulled away to close out the set 25-15 and take the match 3-0.
Elmhurst finished the match hitting .252, committing only 15 errors in 131 attacks. The Sea Gulls hit just .138 in the match.
The Bluejays had a balanced offensive attack with six players totaling six or more kills. Reynolds, Wilks and Szarmach totaled nine kills apiece to lead the charge. Reynolds and Wilks finished with four blocks apiece while Szarmach added 12 digs. Veasy Smith totaled eight kills while Novak registered seven kills and 13 assists. Rueffer finished with six kills and 14 assists. Erin Thill totaled a team-leading 23 assists to go with 13 digs. Hannah Lessen dug up 19 attacks while Dana Loncar came off the bench to tally 10 digs.
Elmhurst's serve receive was perfect in the match, not committing an error in 55 attempts.
"Serve receive has been something we've really stressed," Szarmach said. "We rely on our serving and serve receive to keep our attack spread out and that helps lead to a balanced attack."
Salisbury was led by Ashlyn Tapley's 10-kill and 10-dig performance. Jenna Shay added eight kills. Carley Todd finished with seven kills to go along with a team-leading 23 assists and 22 digs.
With the victory, the Bluejays will face St. Thomas in the first semifinal on Friday.
Hall sees a lot of similarities between the Bluejays and the Tommies.
"I think [Friday's] contest is going to feature two teams that mirror each other," she said. "They have a lot of different weapons on offense and they're going to be a real challenge for us."