Courtesy of Juniata Sports Information
HUNTINGDON, Pa. – The No. 9 Juniata College women's volleyball team advanced to its seventh consecutive Landmark Conference championship match this evening with a 3-1 (25-16, 25-16, 21-25, 25-10) semifinals victory over The University of Scranton.
"We were sloppy, but it's hard to play a team three times," said head coach Heather Pavlik. "That's the third time we've played Scranton. I thought Scranton played really well. I thought they were about as scrappy as they could be. I thought they played great defense and I don't know that we were as patient as we needed to be."
Scranton battled to stay in the opening slue of points, keeping pace with the Eagles all the way up to 10-10 before a run of powerful kills by freshmen Nakita Gearhart and Mar-Jana Phillips put Juniata up front 14-10 and forced a timeout by the Royals. Phillips showed off her quick-hitting power, earning a team-high 10 kills, and Juniata displayed its hard serving, as the Eagles pulled away with the first set 25-16. Junior libero Brittani Young put on a defensive show finishing with six hard earned digs in the first set and a match-high 21 overall.
"Mar-Jana is playing good ball right now especially considering she's been out," said Pavlik. "She's been out for a week, a week and a half. Part of this week we were simply knocking the rust off. I thought she performed really well tonight. She's just a very good athlete and has good instincts."
Juniata flexed its top-10 muscles in the second set jumping out to a quick 8-2 lead. On the service of freshman Brittanie Tannenbaum, the Eagles continued to stretch their lead reaching 13-6. The Royals clawed their way back to within four at 13-9, but, with senior Rachelle Wiegand serving, and a strong Juniata block, the Eagles grabbed an 11-point lead at 20-9. Scranton wouldn't go down easily, earning six more points before Juniata took the two sets lead 25-15.
"I think we made a few adjustments on their outside hitters and our right sides did a good job with that," said Pavlik. "I think we settled down and I thought we actually blocked pretty well this match. That's the one part of the game I was actually pretty happy with."
Scranton used its strong block in the third set to grab the early 10-5 lead and force a Juniata timeout. The Eagles used a mix of attacks to pull level at 12-12. Phillips and senior Courtney Lydick took control of the middle of the court to put the Eagles on top 16-14. The Royals continued to be effective with their block coming level at 16-16 and grabbing a late lead at 18-16. On the Lydick block, Juniata evened the set once again at 19 all, but Scranton took the next three points and earned the set win 25-21 on a service ace.
Wiegand had the magic serve again in the fourth set, pacing the Eagles to a 6-1 lead. Gearhart slammed down a Scranton overpass to stretch the lead to 14-8 and sophomore Gabrielle Ooyama made a number of impressive defensive saves to help Juniata to the 15-8 lead. Scranton continued to work hard and fast for its points, but Phillips made a statement with a kill for the 20-10 advantage. With Gearhart on the service line, the Eagles took the fourth set, 25-10, on a kill from junior Amelia Kepler. Both Kepler and Wiegand finished the night with eight kills and Ooyama and senior Amy Miller rounded out the top-three of the Juniata defense with 11 and 13 digs respectively.
"Everything settled down," said Pavlik. "Fourth game, they settled down and they just played the way they know how to play. They were a little more patient. They were willing to get into some rallies and they didn't want to end it with every first swing and that's probably pretty important. When a team is scrappy like that you have to be willing to hang in there and go back and forth with them a little bit."
The Eagles will face the winner of the second semifinal match between second seed Susquehanna University and third seeded Catholic University of America, in the Landmark Conference Championship tomorrow at 3 p.m.