HUNTINGDON, Pa.- Staring down a 2-0 deficit against NYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night, the Juniata men's volleyball team saved its biggest comeback of the season for the right time. The Eagles rallied for a thrilling 3-2 victory in front of a packed and raucous Memorial Gym crowd to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals next Friday in Springfield, Mass.
Quinn Peterson (Las Vegas, Nev./Shadow Ridge) had a career night for Juniata as he put down 33 kills for a season-high .436 hitting percentage. He also helped on the defensive end with five digs and three assisted blocks. On getting a match like this under his belt, Peterson said "It's crazy knowing it's a new career high. It's an awesome feeling. There is nothing to do but build off of that."
Head coach Glenn DeHaven compared tonight's match to last week's 3-2 victory over EMU to win the CVC Championship. "I would go back to last week where we had a great experience in five sets," he noted. "The guys really showed some grit and heart and definitely had a 'we've been here before' feeling to it. I don't think there were the nerves that you might have seen earlier in the year from us so that was exciting."
The Violets showed early on that they were going to be tough to defeat. The first set was close early on with neither team able to break off a big run. NYU led 12-10 before the Eagles put up two points to tie the set at 12-12. The Violets got a little breathing room with a 5-0 run to lead 17-12. The advantage grew to 23-16 as NYU was able to take frame 25-19.
Juniata took a 22-19 lead in the second set and looked to even the match up. NYU rallied to tie at 23-23. The teams would exchange points with both getting to match point four times. The Violets got their winning point on the fifth try on a service ace to win 33-31 and lead 2-0.
The Eagles came out strong in set three as they led 7-3. JC's lead stood at 16-13 but NYU came back to tie. The Violets led 22-20 and 23-22 and looked to end the match but a pair of errors along with a Peterson kill put a stop to the threat as Juniata squeaked out a 25-23 win.
The two squads played evenly for most of the fourth frame. Trailing 18-17, JC put up three straight points to go ahead 20-18. NYU chipped its way back but Juniata stayed out in front as it won 25-22 to force the deciding fifth set.
With a roaring home crowd behind them, the Eagles go out to a 10-6 lead in set five. The Violets tried to keep up but momentum was with Juniata as it got ahead 14-9 and won on a Peterson kill to send the fans into a frenzy.
Kyle Seeley (Ellicott City, Md./Howard) commented on the crowd's impact. "They are the best in volleyball," he stated afterwards. "When we were struggling in the beginning, they didn't quit. It brought the whole team back in for sets three, four, and five." Seeley is the only player left from the 2014 team that advanced to the National Championship and he said that it was a bit of déjà vu for him after coming back at that time from a 2-1 deficit to Kean in the quarterfinals and winning in five on the team's home court.
Michael Young (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake Village) steered the offense with a career best 60 assists. Seeley added 12 kills, three digs, and six assisted blocks. Matt Vasinko (Loyalhanna, Pa./Derry Area) totaled 10 kills, six digs, and three block assists. Chris Heron (Las Vegas, Nev./Arbor View) tacked on nine digs with Sean Cavanagh (Cranberry Township, Pa./Seneca Valley) adding eight digs and four assisted blocks.
Juniata outhit NYU .309 to .252. The Eagles' best effort came in the final set as it was hitting at a .636 clip.
As for preparing for Springfield, DeHaven said that his team has worry about themselves first. "We do what we have done all year," he said. "I think when we play Juniata volleyball, we're pretty tough. I think the guys have started to believe that as we go. We still keep the focus on us and work to get better live we've done every week."
The Eagles move on to play Wentworth next Friday. The Leopards won the Greater Northeast Athletic Conference and earned a bye into the quarterfinal round. Match time with be announced early next week.