Courtesy of Nicole Watkins

In a high-energy match, the No. 11 Emory volleyball team claimed its eighth overall University Athletic Association (UAA) championship with a dramatic 3-0 shutout over the University of Chicago on Nov. 3 at the University of Rochester (N.Y.). 

The Eagles recorded a 25-23, 25-20, 33-31 decision over UChicago, boosting their overall season record to 24-6. Both teams rallied in the intense competition for a combined total of nearly 300 attack attempts and 134 digs.

“We played hard, with and for each other,” senior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas said after the final match.

In the first set, the Eagles fought hard to maintain their lead. Emory captured the back-and-forth set with a kill by freshman outside hitter Tara Martin, assisted by senior setter Mady Arles. The Eagles finished the set with a .238 hitting percentage over the UChicago Maroons’ .186 hitting percentage.

In the second set, the Eagles trailed 10-6 before clapping back with an 11-1 run, highlighted by three kills from Martin and two kills each by seniors outside hitter Karissa Dzurik and middle hitter Sydney Leimbach, putting the team up 17-11. The Maroons then brought the score to 20-17 until a pair of attack errors boosted the Eagles’ lead by five. Emory controlled the remainder of the set with sophomore right-side hitter Leah Saunders finishing back-to-back terminations and Martin closing out with one final kill.

The Maroons dominated the first half of the final set, leading the Eagles 15-9. After Emory responded with four straight points from kills by Dzurik and Martin, the Maroons retaliated with four unanswered points, putting them up 20-15. But the Eagles pounced back, tying the set at 23, thanks to kills by Leimbach and Dzurik and a service ace by senior defensive specialist Becky Breuer.

For the remainder of the match, the Maroons fought off elimination, staying alive with two consecutive points to put them at a 28-27 lead. However, they could not capitalize, allowing the Eagles to take a 29-28 lead with an attack error on their side and a termination by Martin. After more back-and-forth responses on each side, the Eagles finally sealed the championship title with two kills by Dzurik, closing out the set 33-31.    

“Coming into the third set, we knew it was going to be a battle. But we were determined,” junior libero Elyse Thompson said. “We kept pressing and we were swinging. We put the pressure on them, and they couldn’t respond.”

Emory dominated the match in both hitting percentage and total blocks. The Eagles concluded the match with a .219 hitting percentage, while the Maroons checked in at a .151 hitting percentage. The Eagles also closed out the match with a decisive 12-1 edge over the Maroons in total blocks. The two teams tied at 67 digs.  

A trio of double-figure finishers who recorded 14 kills and a .371 combined hitting percentage bolstered the Eagles’ offensive campaign. Dzurik topped all players with an average of 4.65 kills in nine sets, while Martin added a personal season-high of 11 kills. Saunders also contributed 10 total kills. Arles completed 43 assists. On the defensive side, Thompson led all players with 18 digs, while Wilkins followed with seven total blocks on the night.

The Emory volleyball team celebrates their 3-0 shutout over the University of Chicago Maroons and their eighth UAA championship on Nov. 3 at the University of Rochester (N.Y.). Courtesy of Nicole Watkins

“Winning [the] conference felt particularly sweet this year, because we have been battle-tested all season and it was really nice seeing our hard work pay off in such a satisfactory way,” Barzdukas said of the team’s win.

Head Coach Jenny McDowell agreed, praising her athletes on their hard work.

“[The championship is a] direct reflection of how hard our players have worked since August,” McDowell said. “Plus, we have great leadership and a senior class that knows how to get [the job] done.”

The victory was Emory’s sixth league title in the last 10 years and granted the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Eagles are one of 64 teams competing and are set to face Meredith College (N.C.) at Berry College (Ga.) in the first round Rome Regional on Nov. 9.

As the Eagles head toward the postseason, Barzdukas said the team has some goals to work toward in the coming days.

“We are going to continue to work on blocking, defense, point-scoring opportunities and a myriad of other things that will make us better,” Barzdukas said. “But mostly, we are going to work on playing with grit and a joyful pursuit of winning, while enjoying these last few weeks together.”