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Volleyball returns home from their first NCAA Championship satisfied and yearning for more

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Volleyball returns home from their first NCAA Championship satisfied and yearning for more

James Hale

James Hale

James Hale

The women’s volleyball team wraps after a match. The Spartans earned their first-ever berth in the NCAA Championship; they exited in the first round but managed to push SUNY-Cortland to five sets.

Peter Cooke, Sports Editor

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The end to the Case Western Reserve University volleyball season came later than everyone thought and ended before anyone wanted. The Spartans lost in their maiden trip to the NCAA Division III Championship in the first round to SUNY-Cortland, 3-2. The Spartans pushed the region’s third seed to the wire but ultimately fell short in the final set, 15-11.

“Our team went to Frostburg with a lot of confidence after picking up so many big wins over the course of the season. We had two great practices there and our players were very focused,” said head coach Karen Farrell.

Case Western Reserve (24-11) came out on fire against the Red Dragons (34-7), playing a back and forth match. The lead changed between the two teams 14 times along with 40 ties. Cortland managed to steal the first set 26-24 and ran away with the second 25-18. With their back against the wall, the Spartans have thrived this season and they continued the trend, winning the third set 25-23. Once again in a do-or-die fourth set, the Spartans started to gain momentum, winning 25-17. The fourth set was all Spartans, as led they led the entire set.

With everything tied up, Case Western Reserve’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament would be one of the championship’s most thrilling first round matchups. The fifth set saw the Spartans jump out to n early lead. The Red Dragons would counter, as the teams tied nine times during the final set. The teams would alternate points until finally the score was tied at 11-11. Unfortunately for the Spartans, the Red Dragons caught fire, rallying for four straight points to win the match and advance.

“Overall we played well, exceeding our average offensive production and making minimal errors, but SUNY Cortland’s attackers outplayed ours and their size created some tougher match-ups vs. our block,” said Farrell. “In order to win games 3 and 4, we played nearly flawlessly and put away 15 and 16 kills to earn those sets. Our players are extremely competitive and have learned how to battle all the way through a match. We have forced other teams to play extremely well to beat us.”

The 3-2 loss was one of just four in the first round of the NCAA Championship.

Middle hitter Tricia McCuthcan and Outside Hitter Rachael Suchy ended their award winning seasons in impressive fashion, with both players tallying 19 kills apiece. Sophomore Breana Freeman showed there were no kinks in her hand after a collision last week, posing 52 assists and 13 digs. Libero Rachel Gulasey led the defense with 25 digs.

Senior Beth Karpinski played on the back line, adding five kills and 17 digs in her final game at Case Western Reserve.

Despite the team’s early absence from the tournament, the Spartans wrap up arguably the most successful season in school history. The team earned its best UAA finish when they ended up fourth as well as earning the school’s first ever NCAA berth.

The team isn’t resting on its laurels. The Spartans earned five votes in the most recent AVCA top 25 poll, the first votes in known history. The squad also loses just two seniors and will return five starters next year. Along with two returning All-UAA honorees, the 2011 Spartans will post a team that has matured during some of the school’s best seasons ever.

“A new bar has been set for our volleyball program,” said Farrell. “The expectation going forward will be to beat the ranked teams in our region, compete well with the nationally ranked teams within our conference and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Our players will need to continue to play one set at a time, match-by-match and stay focused on playing well as a team to reach our goals as we work hard to move the Case Volleyball program to the next level. With a large returning veteran squad, the 2011 season will be exciting.”

Cortland would lose to regional host Frostburg State University in the second round 3-2. American Volleyball Coaches Association national ranked No. 3 Juniata College then thumped Frostburg St. to win the regional and advance to Washington University in St. Louis where the final three rounds will be held.

Case Western Reserve has three fellow University Athletic Association teams still alive in the tournament. No. 3 Washington will face No. 15 New York University in the quarterfinals. UAA champion and top ranked Emory University face No. 5 Christopher Newport University. The only other UAA team to receive a bid was the No. 23 University of Chicago who were knocked out in the first round 3-0 by No. 6 Hope College.

Frostburg St. regional winner Juniata will face No. 12 University of St. Thomas. The final two teams in the “Elite 8” are No. 24 University of Massachusetts-Boston and No. 10 Calvin College.

The NCAA Championship game will be held Sunday, Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Washington University Field House.

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Volleyball returns home from their first NCAA Championship satisfied and yearning for more