Volleyball completes historic season at national tournament

In a small central Pennsylvanian town with a population barely over 7,000, history was made by the Case Western Reserve University volleyball team. The Spartans won their first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament match in the history of the school by defeating the University of Mary Washington on Friday, Nov. 13 in four sets, 25-20, 25-20, 19-25, 25-23.

Friday the 13th wasn’t unlucky, though Saturday the 14th was, as the historic season came to an end in the second round at the hands of No. 3 Juniata College, with CWRU losing 12-25, 14-25, 17-25.

“I think we were all pretty excited,” said fourth-year libero Katie Best (18 digs) in a post-game press conference, summing up the feeling of the team after the victory. First-year setter Shannon Carroll, who assisted on 39 kills during the win, added, “It’s surreal right now.”

Fourth-year middle hitter Haley Kauffman (13 kills) and third-year outside hitter Marian Barton (12 kills) paced the Spartan attack. Earlier in the week, Kauffman was honored with an honorable mention to the Great Lakes All-Region team, after setting a school record for highest hitting percentage in a season (.354). After the Spartans finished third in the University Athletic Association (UAA), she was also named to the All-UAA first team, and teammates Best and fourth-year outside hitter Carolyn Bogart were named All-UAA second team. Bogart was also named to the Huntingdon All-Region team following tournament play on Sunday.

“This is the culmination of our season,” said Head Coach Karen Farrell, because the Spartans fought hard to close the first two sets against Mary Washington, just like they have done all season in tight sets and matches. The late surges go back to the very first match of the season, which Farrell calls the “turning point of our season.” Kauffman said in a post-game press conference, “In closer games, we’ll thrive.”

It wasn’t just upperclassmen stepping up for the Spartans, as Carroll proved in the team’s final six matches. After a serious knee injury ended fourth-year setter Robyn Marks’ season early, Carroll became the team’s main setter. Farrell praised her play, saying, “We don’t get [to the NCAA tournament] without Shannon Carroll.”

The first set against Mary Washington was tightly contested, with the score tied nine times, and neither team leading by more than four. CWRU pulled ahead for a good 20-16 after a 6-1 run, and an aggressive offensive attack held off a potential Eagles comeback giving the Spartans the set win.

Following the excitement of set one came thrilling set two, which was very similar to its predecessor. An 8-1 CWRU run in the middle of the set gave the Spartans a four point lead, and the team was full of energy and confidence. This time though, the Eagles managed to tie the set at 20. However, a strong Spartans’ block helped to team to five straight points to close it out.

Set three saw the Spartans try to come back multiple times from five point deficits, but the rallies were unsuccessful. A similar scenario unfolded in the beginning of set four as the Eagles held four point leads four separate times with the last one at 20-16. CWRU was energized by an unexpected wave of crowd support and took a 22-21 lead. “We just refused to let [the match] go,” said Farrell. The confident players kept the Eagles at bay and celebrated their first tournament victory a few points later.

The school’s first NCAA tournament victory. Second most wins in school history. Third place finish in the UAA. A 10-0 start to the season. The best CWRU volleyball team ever? If this isn’t it, I don’t know what is.