PITTSBURGH, Pa.- For the first time since 2010, the Juniata women's volleyball team returns to the Final 4 after their come from behind, 3-2 (20-25, 25-13, 18-25, 25-22, 15-12) victory over Wesleyan (Conn.) Thursday evening in the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University.
The opening set saw the Cardinals maintain a narrow lead as they stayed a few points ahead of Juniata early. Down 6-9, two straight kills from Marie Gonsar (New Castle, Pa. / Shenango H.S.) pulled Juniata within one before an Eagle attack error and a Cardinal kill made it 8-11. Each middle put down a kill as Marybeth Weihbrecht (Mechanicsburg, Pa. / Cumberland Valley) and Dejia Danhi (Ashburn, Va. / Stone Bridge) both found gaps in the defense before an attack error tied things at 11. Juniata got within one point of the Cardinals on two different occasions, but couldn't pull even as Wesleyan took set one, 20-25. Both teams hit the ball well to start the match as the Cardinals hit .333 with 18 kills while JC hit .351 with 16 kills.
Set two opened with Morgan Edwards (Lancaster, Pa. / Penn Manor) making a lunging effort to keep a ball alive, and Danhi wound up smashing the ball down to put JC up 1-0. The teams went back and forth, with the Eagles holding a narrow lead at 6-5. A service error, and attack error by Wesleyan followed by a block by Victoria Taylor (Middletown, Del. / Delaware Military Academy) and Weihbrecht made it 9-5. The Cardinals called timeout, but to no avail as Weihbrecht welcomed them back to the court with a kill before Gonsar's service ace and kill pushed the JC advantage to seven at 12-5. The Cardinals took the next two points before the Eagles notched five straight to push the lead to 10, 18-8. A bad set by Wesleyan gave the Blue and Gold set point before an Edwards kill tied the match at 1-1 as Juniata convincingly took se two 25-13. Juniata had their best-hitting set as they hit .385 with 12 kills and held the Cardinals to -.061.
Wesleyan wasn't deterred by the large margin in the previous set as they jumped out to a 0-4 lead. The Eagles got within one several times, but the Cardinals kept them at bay and slowly grew their lead as Juniata fell behind 7-12. A block from Moira Folan (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Oakland Catholic HS) and Danhi, a Cardinal attack error, and a kill from Danhi pulled Juniata within two, 10-12. The teams traded points as Juniata hung around, with a big swing from Taylor getting Juniata within three at 18-21, but that was the last point the Eagles would score as the Cardinals took set three, 18-25. This was the first time Juniata had trailed 2-1 in a match since their come from behind victory over Emory back on September 14th.
Danhi and Taylor teamed up for a block and a Cardinal ball-handling error helped the Eagles go up 2-0. Following a Cardinal kill, Edwards tallied a kill, Makenna Hallager's (Glenolden, Pa. / Merion Mercy Academy) ace just caught the back line, and a Wesleyan attack error put Juniata up 5-1. JC committed an attack error before kills from Danhi, Edwards and Weihbrecht made it 8-2. The Cardinals took six of the next seven points as the Eagle lead was trimmed to one and Wesleyan eventually pulled ahead. 14-11 as Juniata called timeout twice in the span of three points. Wesleyan led by two at 14-16 before a Gonsar kill, a Cardinal attack error and a block by Gonsar and Weihbrecht gave JC the lead back at 17-16. The points started to get longer as both teams made impressive digs on balls to keep points alive, with Wesleyan taking two straight points to pull even at 20-20. Taylor mashed a ball, the Cardinals matched with a kill of their own before Taylor stuck again and Danhi denied the Wesleyan outside with a solo block to make it 23-21. The Cardinals scored once more before an Edwards kill put the match on the precipice of a final set and a block by Gonsar and Danhi pushed it over the edge, 25-22.
The decisive fifth set opened with the teams trading blocks before the Cardinals notched the first kill. Gonsar and Edwards put down a kill apiece to go up 3-2. The teams traded points as Wesleyan led 6-4. Katie Byrne (Annapolis, Md. / Broadneck) made a diving dig to keep the point alive and Gonsar took advantage with her 13th kill to pull JC back within one at 5-6. Wesleyan led 6-8 at the media timeout as JC hung close. Kills from Danhi and Taylor knotted things at 8-8, but the Cardinals took the next three points to go up 8-11. Danhi's had a hand in the next three points as she tallied a kill, had a block assist along with Gonsar and then a solo block that tied the score at 11-11. Edwards gave Juniata the lead at 12-11. The Cardinals made it 12-12 but that was it. Gonsar put down her 14th kill and Edwards gave the Eagles match point before she punched the Eagles ticket to the Final Four with her match-high 18th kill.
Weihbrecht had an efficient day hitting the ball as she amassed 14 kills while hitting .542. Alyssa Tavera (Whittier, Calif. / La Salle H.S.) had a double double with her 36 assists and 12 digs while Gonsar had a double double of her own with 14 kills and 23 digs. Edwards totaled 18 kills while hitting .271 to go with two block assists. Danhi tallied nine kills, two solo blocks and for the second time this season nine block assists. Her nine block assists are tied for the second most in a single game in program history.
The win sets Juniata up for a showdown with #9 Emory, tomorrow at 7:30. The last time these two teams met Juniata narrowly edged Emory, 3-2.