“In the UAA [University Athletic Association], we had three steps; in this championship, three steps; next, we have another three steps; nine steps total,” freshman outside hitter Morgan McKnight said. “The goal is to pass each step, get better with each step [and] make sure we are playing Emory volleyball.”
For the second step on the quest for an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) D-III championship title, the Eagles ventured to Brockport, N.Y. this past weekend. The stakes were high — one loss could end the 2016 volleyball season — but Emory’s volleyball season will continue after the Brockport Regional tournament, as the squad defeated the College of New Rochelle (N.Y.) 3-0, Clarkson University (N.Y.) 3-1 and the College at Brockport, State University of New York 3-0.
While sophomore libero Becky Breuer said the “energy was a little lacking in the match against New Rochelle,” the Eagles still put up some excellent stats across the board for both the New Rochelle and Clarkson games. In the game against the New Rochelle Blue Angels, the Eagles earned a team total of 40 kills.
“[New Rochelle] had great ball control, so it allowed us to really work on a certain style of playing,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “They kept the ball in play, so we had to be really good in the backcourt, and when we had the chance to terminate the ball, that’s what we had to do.”
In the Clarkson game, Emory put up a total of 68 digs and 161 total attacks.
“We had played [Clarkson] three weeks ago, but they had improved so much,” McDowell said. “They had two really great middle hitters who did a really good job, and we had to get used to the tempo. That was a challenge for us.”
McDowell said that the first two matches prepared her team for its third game, which, according to McDowell, was the “best match of the weekend.”
Determined by a bracket system, the NCAA regional tournament concluded with a competition between Emory and Brockport in which both teams proved the skill required to progress to this point in the NCAA tournament.
In a nail-biting win against Brockport, the Eagles won each of the three sets by three, eight, and seven points, respectively. For extended periods of time within each set, Emory trailed Brockport by numerous points.
In the first set, Brockport maintained a lead until the 16th point, when Emory tied the game thanks to Breuer’s eight-point serving streak, boosting Emory’s point total from 11 to 19. In addition to her serving success, Breuer also put up 14 digs for the Eagles.
Although the team ultimately pulled off a win against Brockport, Breuer acknowledged Emory’s rocky start to the match.
“One of our goals is to be the first to five points, but we didn’t do that all in the Brockport match,” Breuer said.
McKnight found that some of the Eagles’ errors came from championship jitters.
“I think it was a little bit of nervousness,” McKnight said. “It was a little bit of ‘this could be our last game’ and ‘we’re in the regional championship.’ ”
In addition to McKnight’s observations, Breuer attributed the Eagles’ initial struggle to the competition’s home advantage.
“I think the schedule was tough on us,” Breuer said. “[All the New Yorkers] got to drive there …The stress of [traveling] affected us a little bit.”
In spite of a shaky beginning, Emory ended the set 25-22. The close score highlights the impressive competition the Eagles faced this weekend.
Sophomore outside hitter Mira Grinsfelder’s and senior right side Sarah Maher’s dig counts did not fall too far behind Breuer’s Grinsfelder earned eight digs and Maher 11. Emory’s impressive defensive skills made defeating Brockport a much simpler task.
On the offensive side, one of Emory’s biggest assets, senior middle hitter Jessica Holler, shined as usual. Responsible for 18 of the match’s 54 points, Holler ended the game with a .545 kill percentage, making 22 total attacks. Along with senior outside hitter Kathryn Trinka’s 18 total attacks and McKnight’s 22, Emory’s work at the net proved powerfully advantageous.
After a long weekend in New York, the Eagles travel again this Thursday.
“We’re really excited to play Calvin [College (Mich.)]; they’re a typically strong program,” Breuer said. “This is it for the seniors, and this is the biggest deal for our team.”
The Eagles advance to the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals this Thursday, Nov. 17, at 1:30 p.m. when they will face Calvin in Oshkosh, Wis.