Ithaca Wins Final Three Sets to Spoil Eagles’ NCAA Run in Quarterfinals

Junior right side hitter Carly Saitman prepares to serve in the Eagles’ quarterfinal matchup with Ithaca College (N.Y.). Courtesy of Jeremy Crawford.

After an impressive 30-7 run, the Emory volleyball team ended their season with a 3-1 loss to Ithaca College (N.Y.) Nov. 16 in the NCAA Division III Championship quarterfinals.

Emory started off strong with a strong 25-13 win in the first set, only to lose the following three sets. They lost the second set 25-17. In the third and fourth sets, the two teams battled into extra points, with Emory losing 26-24 and 28-26.

“If we had told people in September that we were going to make it this far, I’m not sure anyone would have believed us,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “It was a disappointing match, and they played their best while we didn’t play ours.”

The Eagles have made appearances at 21 NCAA tournaments in the past 22 years, so, unlike Ithaca, the team knew how to deal with the pressure in the first match, according to sophomore defensive specialist Elyse Thompson.

Junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas gets set. Courtesy of Jeremy Crawford.

“We know how to handle the pressure, and you can’t come out jittery,” Thompson said. “They clearly were nervous and couldn’t get on their feet.”

But as the Eagles lost momentum, Ithaca seemed only to grow more confident.

“In the next two sets, we weren’t as victorious, but we still lost by only two points in the third and fourth sets,” Thompson said. “Had we had a few more dug balls, a few better serves, we could have survived. And a lot of this tournament is about surviving.”

McDowell said it was difficult to pinpoint a single problem that the Eagles faced while on the court.

“It’s interesting because I think that first set went so well, so, to be honest, I’m not sure what went wrong,” McDowell said. “None of our players were on their A games, including the coaches, so I think it was a combination of one error leading to another.”

While Emory did not play its best in the final game, McDowell saw the glass as half full.

“Experience is invaluable, and we’re going to build off that and strive for excellence,” McDowell said.

The team will now jump straight into strengthening and conditioning and have a short five-week spring season. The team will return next fall with a freshman class that McDowell says she is excited about.

Ithaca fell the following day 3-1 against Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) in the tournament semifinals. Claremont McKenna went on to claim the DIII National Championship title with a 3-0 win against Wittenberg College (Ohio) Nov. 18 in the finals.