HUNTINGDON, Pa.-The Juniata women's volleyball team's 3-1 (25-16, 20-25, 25-23, 25-23) win over #7 Thomas More in the NCAA Volleyball Huntingdon, Pa. Regional Championship means they advance to the Elite 8 at the Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne.
The opening set was a tight affair that saw the teams trade the lead back and forth several times. With the score at 13-13, big kills from Morgan Edwards (Lancaster, Pa. / Penn Manor) and Marybeth Weihbrecht (Mechanicsburg, Pa. / Cumberland Valley) followed by two well placed aces by Dejia Danhi (Ashburn, Va. / Stone Bridge) made it 17-13. Thomas More called timeout to try and quell the run, but to no avail. The Saints took the next point, but a ballhandling error, a block by Moira Folan (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Oakland Catholic HS) and Weihbrecht, an ace from Sophia Gingrich (Minneapolis, Minn. / Minneapolis Southwest H.S.) along with a Saints attack error made it 21-14. The teams went back and forth and with the score at 23-16 another Folan/Weihbrecht block gave JC set point. A Saint attack error ended set one 25-16.
The Saints raced ahead to a 10-5 lead early and Juniata quickly called timeout. Kills via Marie Gonsar (New Castle, Pa. / Shenango H.S.) and Victoria Taylor (Middletown, Del. / Delaware Military Academy) along with an ace by Katie Byrne (Annapolis, Md. / Broadneck) pull Juniata within two. A block by Gonsar wound up knotting things at 12-12. The Saints took the next few points, and while the Eagles fought to stay close, a block and a kill for Thomas more made it 16-21. Weihbrecht and Taylor mashed a kill each but two but again the Saints responded. Another Taylor kill was matched by the Saints to make it 19-24 as Thomas More Reached set point. Danhi kept the set alive for the Blue and Gold for a point, but the Saints pulled out set two, 20-25. It was the first set Juniata dropped since October 16that Elizabethtown.
The third set saw the Eagles jump ahead 6-2, but the Saints rallied back to tie the score several times. Juniata never let them get ahead in the set but Thomas More pulled even eight times, with the final time at 20-20 on a service error. A kill from Danhi and an attack error put Juniata ahead again and the Saints called timeout, but Taylor laced back to back kills to push the Eagles to set point. The Saints rattled off three straight points before Alyssa Tavera (Whittier, Calif. / La Salle H.S.) set up Danhi for the final kill as Juniata took set three 25-23.
The fourth set saw neither team gain much separation early, until with the score at 6-6 Juniata rattled off four straight via kills from Taylor and Danhi, a block from Danhi and another Taylor kill after a Saint timeout made it 10-6. The Saints battled back within three, but a kill from Edwards, a block Weihbrecht and Gonsar followed by another Danhi ace made it 16-10. The Saints called time out to try and keep their season alive. Thomas More went on a 10-4 run that saw them score four straight points to tie things at 20-20. Following an Eagle timeout, an attack error from the Saints, a Tavera ace and a massive kill by Edwards made it 23-20 as Memorial Gymnasium went wild. The Saints took the next point before Taylor smashed her 16th kill of the day to put JC a point away from the Elite 8. Thomas More got back to back kills from before Gonsar smashed a ball towards the backrow that caromed off a Saints player and into the stands as Juniata won, 25-23.
The win is the 25th straight this season, as Juniata improves their winning percentage to .900 on the year. It is the 28th trip to the Elite 8 for the program and the first time Juniata will appear since 2010. Weihbrecht was named the Most Outstanding Player while Taylor and Danhi made the All-Tournament team.
Juniata will play Wesleyan (Conn.), Thursday at 8 pm.