Volleyball: Win over No. 1 highlights tournament sweep
As the Washington University women’s volleyball team moves through the year, much talk surrounds its upcoming season.
In the Sixth Annual Teri Clemens Invitational at the Field House, the Bears won the tournament by taking down three nationally ranked teams—two of which entered the weekend in the top six.
The highlight of the weekend, an instant classic of a match that will be remembered for years to come, was the Bears’ upset of the No. 1 Juniata College Eagles in straight sets (28-26, 41-39, 27-25).
The win was the team’s first over Juniata since 2005.
“I’m in a little bit of disbelief,” junior captain Marya Kaminski said. “We came out, and we wanted to play them really bad. We wanted to win, and we executed. We did it.”
Senior captain Erin Albers had 15 kills for the Bears, while freshman Marilee Fisher had a stellar game, registering 44 of the team’s 57 assists.
“I can’t even explain it,” Fisher said after the game. “We’ve all just worked our butts off to do our best and do our jobs. It’s just so much fun.”
Although the Bears may have only needed three sets to knock off the Eagles, the match was hard fought on both sides, and each set went down to the wire. The first set was back and forth, as the Bears led for most of the set before the Eagles took a late lead. After tying the score at 20, the teams traded points until freshman Kelly Pang put it away with an ace.
What happened next will live on in University—and perhaps NCAA—volleyball annals forever.
By the time the second set was over, with the Bears taking it 41-39, the team had set a record across all NCAA divisions for most points scored in a three-set match with the 25-point scoring format. They had turned away 13 set-point chances for the Eagles. It was a true marathon set that was close from the outset, as neither team led by more than three points at any time.
The set went on for so long that the Bears ran out of substitutions—forcing 5-foot-2-inch sophomore defensive specialist Tricia Brandt up front attempting to block.
“That second set was incredible volleyball back and forth,” head coach Rich Luenemann, visibly out of breath, said after the game. “Two teams scoring point after point after point. And we made it. We weathered it.”
Exhausted but not finished, both teams followed up that set with another impressive showing in the third set. The Bears jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead and looked ready to coast to another victory and a sweep of the number one team in the country.
But with the way this match went, no one in the building was surprised when the Eagles rallied, bringing it to 23-23. The teams traded points twice more before Albers put away the final two points of the game, ending the set at 27-25 and the match at 3 sets to 0.
Chaos ensued as the fans came onto the court and the girls celebrated their huge victory.
“Incredible opponent, incredible match,” Luenemann said after the game.
One of the biggest facets of the Bears’ victory was their ball-control ability, out-controlling a team that prides itself on strong ball control—and Pang, with 27 digs, played a huge part.
“Everyone communicated well,” Pang said. “Everyone stepped up big and communicated with each other and knew who was doing what.”
After a contest like Friday’s, many teams would possibly just be too exhausted and might not have enough to come out for two more games the next day.
The Bears made quick work of No. 18 La Verne in the morning (25-14, 29-27, 25-20). Despite finally showing some vulnerability and dropping a set for the first time in the tournament, the Bears defeated No. 6 St. Thomas in the late game (22-25, 25-17, 17-25, 25-19, 19-17) in another excellent contest that was overshadowed by Friday night’s game.
Victors of the Teri Clemens Invitational, the Bears put three players—Pang, Fisher and sophomore Kristen Thomas—on the all-tournament team.
“It was just really exciting, especially in such close games, to know that we could push through in the end,” Thomas said.
With a young team in place already being able to take down the first-ranked team in the country, the threat that this team poses is immense—and they still have more to give.
“This was not our best game,” Kaminski admitted after the win on Friday night. “We still have a higher plateau to reach.”