Volleyball

An explosive Emory volleyball team secured their place in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals with three consecutive sweeps in the Mount Berry Regional from Nov. 9 to Nov. 11. The weekend was marked by a nearly flawless performance from the Eagles, who took down Meredith College (N.C.), Colorado College and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB) (Texas) each 3-0. With its string of victories, the team placed first in contest and earned the chance to fight for a championship title.

The Eagles’ first match against the Meredith College Avenging Angels on Nov. 9 set them up for a strong weekend. The team accumulated a quick lead in the first set, at one point scoring seven times in a row to give them a 10-point advantage. Emory continued to capitalize on Meredith errors to finish out the set 11-25 in their favor.

In the second set, Emory found an early lead. Meredith began to gain momentum and reduced a 10-point lead by the Eagles down to four. While the team led only slightly at 16-20, Emory freshman outside hitter Tara Martin found three quick kills to secure the set for her team 17-25.

The third set was more contentious, with Meredith almost finding the lead for the first time during the match. The scoreline continued to pivot back and forth with neither team getting a solid grasp on the lead. With Meredith trailing behind by two points at 16-18, Eagles’ senior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik rocketed her team ahead with four consecutive kills. The set ended 17-25 in Emory’s favor after the Angels failed to stage a comeback, giving the match to Emory 3-0.

Entering their second match of the regional competition on Nov. 10, Emory prepared to face Colorado College, a hard-hitting opponent.

“Colorado College is really, really good,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said in a press conference. “When I saw the matchup with them, I had to take a quick pause. That’s how good they are, and that’s how well-coached they are.”

Despite the team’s apprehension heading into the match, they managed to slide ahead 1-2 and went on to maintain their lead in the first set. Despite constant pressure from Colorado, the team answered point for point and kept their energy up. The Eagles took the set 21-25, a much closer margin than from any of the matches against Meredith the previous day. The close score reflected an aggressive playing style from both teams, who found a balance of points from kills and errors.

Colorado took the lead early in the second set forcing Emory to rally from behind, albeit only slightly. A two-point deficit for the Eagles would end up being their most severe of the match. The point total went from 7-9 for Emory to 12-10 for Colorado and then to a tie — a nail-biter if there ever was one. In the end, consistent attacks from Emory allowed them to just barely pull ahead for a set score of 23-25 in their favor.

The third set against Colorado featured some of the most intense volleyball the Eagles have played all season long. Colorado overcame an early Emory lead to tie the score at 14. After battling point for point, the Eagles had the first chance at victory. At 23-24 in Emory’s favor, Colorado both saved themselves and put their opponent in jeopardy with two consecutive points. At risk of dropping the set with the score 25-24, Emory surged ahead. Two kills and an error earned the Eagles the three points they needed to pull ahead by two, winning the set and the match.

Emory senior setter Mady Arles performed exceptionally well with a stellar 42 assists.

“First off, our passers did a great job,” Arles said in a press conference. “It made it really easy for me to distribute the ball, look at what was happening on the other side and find out which hitters were hitting hot.”

Helping to finish off Arles’ sets were Martin and sophomore right side hitter Leah Saunders, both of whom found 11 kills in the match.

The finals of the Mount Berry Regional pitted Emory against UMHB. With an appearance in the quarterfinals on the line, the Eagles sent a message quickly by scoring the first five points of the match consecutively. UMHB responded quickly and aggressively, almost balancing out the score over the next few minutes. Not to be outdone, Emory put themselves back on top and refused to drop, winning the first set 19-25.

The next set saw much more late activity from UMHB, with the team pushing the score into the twenties and looking to contest. Emory clamped down and ended the set 20-25 after scoring another three consecutive points.

Despite a tied score at five early on in the final set, Emory found a six-point streak to all but end the match. The set ended with Emory ahead 14-25, winning them the match, the regional tournament and a spot in the quarterfinals.

The Eagles’ win against Colorado College was the highlight of their weekend and a promising sign to fans. After moving up to No. 3 in the nation, Emory moves forward in the postseason with their energy surging and their heads held high.

Emory will play Ithaca College (N.Y.) in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. in the NCAA DIII Volleyball Quarterfinal.

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.”

Senior setter and right side hitter Carly Saitman attempts to tap the ball over the outstretched arms of Salem College (N.C.). The Eagles swept Salem 3-0 on Oct. 27 at the Emory Invitational. Forrest Martin/Senior Staff

The No. 8 Emory volleyball team closed the final home portion of the regular season with a solid showing at its National Invitational at the WoodPEC on Oct. 26 and 27.

The Eagles opened the tournament on Friday by sweeping both opponents. The team defeated Salem College (N.C.) 25-13, 25-7, 25-9 in their first match and wrapped up the day with a convincing 25-20, 25-21, 25-20 win over Randolph-Macon College (Va.). The victories raised the Eagles’ win streak to seven games and improved their overall record to 20-5.

On the second day of the invitational, the team opened up with another 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 25-5) sweep over Washington and Lee University (Va.). Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.) snapped the Eagles’ eight-game win streak in the final match, 3-1 (22-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-18), bringing Emory’s overall record to 21-6. The team seemed to come close to pulling ahead of Birmingham-Southern a couple times, but couldn’t preserve its lead.

Despite the loss against Birmingham-Southern, the Eagles maintained a characteristically high energy level that Leimbach says often gives the team an advantage.

“Our team has always been really high energy and that’s what tends to give us the edge when we’re playing,” Leimbach said. “It’s also just more fun to play that way, and we’re all really passionate about playing volleyball, and we have way more fun when we’re that energetic.”

McDowell said she is confident in her team heading into this weekend’s University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships.

“I feel like we are peaking at the exact right time,” McDowell said. “[The team has] worked really really hard this season in the weight room and on the court, and I feel like we’re in a fantastic position to be at our best these next three weeks.”

Prior to the match against Randolph-Macon on Friday, the team honored their six seniors (setter Mady Arles, defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas, libero Becky Breuer, outside hitter Karissa Dzurik, middle hitter Sydney Leimbach and right side hitter Carly Saitman) and their contributions to the program over the past four years.

“It’s amazing. What these six have done both on the court and off the court is a credit to every single one of them,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “These six are committed to excellence both on and off the court, and they’ve made a huge impact in our program.”

The Eagles circle up before a match against Salem. Forrest Martin/Senior Staff

Leimbach says she is going to miss seeing her five fellow seniors everyday.

“The biggest thing for me is that I’m going to miss seeing them everyday and seeing the team everyday,” Leimbach said. “I love competing, so it will be really interesting not having that in my life, but I’m going to miss all the memories I’ve made with them.”

The Eagles return to action on Nov. 2 at noon against Brandeis University (Mass.) in the UAA Championship quarterfinals in Rochester, N.Y. Emory enters as the top-seeded team in the tournament, while Brandeis comes in seeded eighth.

The No. 7 Emory volleyball team went 2-1 this weekend at the University Athletic Association (UAA) Round Robin I at Brandeis University (Mass.), setting the Eagles’ overall season record at 10-4.

The Eagles swept the competition on Sept. 29, defeating the University of Rochester (N.Y.) and New York University (NYU) both 3-0, while they fell short against Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) (Pa.) in a 3-1 loss (25-20, 25-20, 22-25 and 25-21, respectively) on Sept. 30.

In their opening match against Rochester, junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight, senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach and senior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik bolstered the Eagles’ offensive campaign. McKnight completed eight kills in 12 total attempts with just one error, finishing the match with a .583 total hitting percentage. Leimbach pounded out nine kills in 12 swings, finishing with an attacking effort of .750, while Dzurik earned her seventh double-digit effort of the season with 10 total kills.

Head Coach Jenny McDowell praised her players’ success.  

“[Dzurik and McKnight] are an amazing one-two combination as outside hitters,” McDowell said. “Leimbach is back and better than ever after an injury she sustained last year. She has taken her game to a whole new level with her commitment to rehab and hard work.”

Junior libero Elyse Thompson dominated the defensive front against Rochester, leading the Eagles with 10 digs, tying her for match honors with Rochester’s Courtney Vidovich.

“Our team really capitalized on the energy in the gym and dominated the tempo of the match,” Thompson said of the victory.

In the match against NYU, Leimbach and Dzurik continued their offensive streak, finishing the match with .412 and .333 total hitting percentages, respectively. On the defensive side, senior setter Mady Arles finished the match with seven digs, while Thompson finished with 13. After claiming the first two sets, the Eagles faced an 18-20 deficit but rallied for seven straight unanswered points to earn the victory.

“Our team successfully countered [NYU’s] 6-2 offense that was pin [hitter] heavy,” Thompson said of the match. “Our tempo and pace of play ultimately beat NYU.”

The following day Eagles’ defeat against CMU dragged their total losses of the season down to four. CMU dominated the Eagles on both  offensive and defensive fronts, out-hitting the Eagles .245 to .199 and finished with a 64-49 edge on digs. Although the Eagles held a 9-3 block advantage with Leimbach contributing four digs, it wasn’t enough to eke out a win.

The Eagles return to action on Oct. 3 at Lee University (Tenn.).

Editor’s Note: Dzurik is a staff writer for the Wheel. She was not involved in the composition of this article.

The Emory volleyball team fell short this weekend in the East-West Challenge in Claremont, Calif., finishing with a record of 1-2. The Eagles faced tough competition — the tournament featured six teams ranked in the top 30 in the nation, according to the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III poll.

The No. 6 Eagles faced three teams, losing to the No. 13 Juniata College (Pa.) 3-2 and the No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) (Calif.) 3-1 on Sept. 14. The Eagles closed out the tournament by defeating the No. 28 University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) 3-1 on Sept. 15.

In their opening match against Juniata, the Eagles suffered a 3-2 defeat, rallying for a 2-1 lead after the third set, but fell behind Juniata in the final two sets. The team took control of the second and third sets with stellar defensive efforts, capping Juniata to a combined hitting percentage of .101.  

After the five-set game, the Eagles were defeated by host CMS in a four-set match. Emory trailed CMS in both hitting percentage (.211-.160) and total blocks (12-6).  

The pair of losses on Friday marked the end of a six-game win streak, setting the Eagles’ overall record at 8-3.   

In their closing match, the Eagles topped UT Dallas, winning three of four sets 25-22, 25-22 and 25-21, respectively, dropping only the second set 21-25.

Junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight led the team’s season-high 59 kills with 14 individual kills, celebrating her sixth double-digit game of the season. Senior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik served a .393 kill percentage in 28 total attempts, making a total of 13 kills, while both senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach and sophomore right side hitter Leah Saunders added 11 and 10 kills each to the Eagles’ offensive campaign. Senior setter Mady Arles completed a career-high of 48 assists and a team-high of four blocks.

Despite the two losses, Head Coach Jenny McDowell acknowledged that the team showed great perseverance throughout the tournament.

“It was a challenging but great weekend for us,” McDowell said. “I love the way our team responded after the losses on Saturday. [Their response] tells me so much about the heart and character of our team.”

McKnight added that the team learned a lot from the weekend’s losses and emphasized the importance of finishing strong.

“We learned a lot of things about ourselves,” McKnight said. “We can work through our tiredness and bounce back from bad losses. We also learned that the game doesn’t end until the final whistle. Learning to be able to finish and terminate no matter the lead we may or may not have will be vital to our success.”

The Eagles return to the court on Sept. 29, where they will face the University of Rochester (N.Y.) and New York University in the University Athletic Association (UAA) Round Robin I in Waltham, Mass.

“We are definitely headed in the right direction with tremendous leadership and a deep desire to be great,” McDowell said.

Editor’s Note: Karissa Dzurik (19B) is a senior staff writer for The Emory Wheel. She was not involved in the composition of this article.

Senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach faces off against two Berry College (Ga.) blockers at the Emory National Tournament on Sept. 7. The Eagles swept the Vikings 3-0. Forrest Martin/Senior Staff

The Emory women’s volleyball team swept the competition this weekend at the Emory National Tournament. The Eagles won 3-0 against Transylvania University (Ky.), Otterbein University (Ohio), Berry College (Ga.) and Tufts University (Mass.) and 3-1 against Whitworth University (Wash.).

The weekend puts the Eagles in a six-game win streak and a 7-1 overall season status.

In the first match against the Transylvania Pioneers, junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight posted an impressive 27 attacks and eight kills. The Eagles’ long-serving streaks throughout each of the three sets established their clear lead over the Pioneers.

McKnight gave the Eagles a solid four-point lead with a series of strong serves in the first set. Senior setter Mady Arles’ consistent serves helped the team reach 22 points later in the set. Only in the third set did Transylvania’s final score reach 20 points.

Head Coach Jenny McDowell praised the team’s overall prowess.

“Our strength of the team is the team,” McDowell said.

Emphasizing the contributions of each member in a 29-player team is critical to the overall mentality going into each game. With so many strong players, McDowell has an impressive toolbelt to work with as she makes decisions on who to put on the court.

“It’s always a good sign when you feel like we’ve been together for a few seasons already,” junior outside hitter Sara Carr said. “We’re molding so well together and feeling like we’ve been playing together longer than we have.”

McKnight has been a major asset for the Eagles, and continued to help Emory shine in game two against Berry, making 30 attacks and 12 kills.

Junior libero Elyse Thompson kept the defense strong with 22 digs in the three sets.

Carr said the Berry game was the most memorable of the weekend.

“This was a game of energy,” Carr said. “We did a great job of [keeping] our energy high on our side of the net.”

Berry, a major regional Emory rival, put up a respectable fight, but failed to send the Eagles flying.

“They’d have their big hits, and we had our flashy points,” Carr said. “It was a tough match, but I think we played with a high level of maturity and were able to take it one point at a time.”

The even bigger challenge of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon against Whitworth, the only opponent of the five schools to take a set from the Eagles. While Emory began strong with a 25-17 win in the first set, Whitworth took the second 25-22. Emory battled back to win the third set 25-20 and the fourth 26-24.

McDowell said she is proud of the senior class, a squad of six this year. Seniors such as setter and right side Carly Saitman, defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas and defensive specialist and libero Becky Breuer have served as crucial members of the volleyball program over the past three years and have only matured since beginning to play for McDowell, she said.

Looking forward to over a month on the road, the team hopes to accomplish a series of goals. One of the most important is to find a sense of team culture and personality.

“I think we’re really working to find what this team’s identity is,” McDowell said.

The Eagles will make their way to Claremont, Calif., for the East-West Challenge where they will play Juniata College (Pa.) and Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) on Sept. 14 and the University of Texas at Dallas on Sept. 15.

The Emory women’s volleyball team returned to the court for a weekend series against the Whittier College (Calif.) Poets on Aug. 31 and the Illinois Wesleyan University (Ill.) Titans and Covenant College (Ga.) Scots on Sept. 1.

The Eagles started the season strong with a 3-0 win over Whittier. They then fell to Illinois Wesleyan 3-1 on Sept. 1 but rebounded with a 3-0 victory over the Scots.

Sophomore middle hitter Maggie Rimmel spikes the ball during a matchup in a weekend series. The Eagles started the season strong with a 3-0 win over Whittier College (Calif.) on Aug. 31. The team fell to Illinois Wesleyan University 3-1, but rebounded with a 3-0 victory over Covenant College (Ga.) on Sept. 1. Forrest Martin/Senior Staff

The team debuted eight freshman players this season, but it still suffers from the loss of several players who were injured last season.

Senior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik made a comeback as a key asset for the Eagles after studying abroad last semester. She scored a total of 23.5 points over the course of the team’s three games. Junior outside hitter Sara Carr also made her return this weekend but only to the back row, waiting a few games to fully assume her usual position at the net. Senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach is expected to return this weekend for her first game of the season after missing the majority of last year.

The team’s new talent also suffered injuries. Freshmen middle hitter and right side Roisin O’Dowd and middle hitter Kaia Johnson are both out with shoulder injuries, while right side Ashley Brennan is benched with a knee jury. Freshmen outside hitter Tara Martin and middle hitter Charlese Blair were injured prior to the season’s start but are now back to playing.

“I think we have a chance to be really good this year,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “Our team came into preseason in great shape, so that was a great start for us.”

In the first game against Whittier, junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight led the team in kills with 17 total. Sophomore right side Leah Saunders trailed her with 13.

“We were really excited to start off the season,” freshman setter Claire Yohann said. “[While] we have a lot to work on, knowing we’re already so competitive is very promising.”

Emory worked off the momentum of the first game to win the first set against Illinois Wesleyan 25-12. However, the Titans came back in the next three sets to attain a narrow victory. The Eagles fell 22-25, 20-25 and 23-25, respectively.

“Illinois Wesleyan is one of the best teams in the country,” McDowell said. “I’m not discouraged [by the results], but more so focused on what we need to do.”

After the weekend’s results, McDowell said the team is focusing on improving blocking skills as well as continuing to build upon serving and passing.

“And communication can always get better, even though —if you’ve been to one of our games — you know we’re a pretty loud team,” Yohann added.

Looking ahead, the Eagles face a busy schedule of tough opponents.

“We know we need to fight and claw, but our players want to play the best schedule possible,” McDowell said. “It’s somewhat cliche, but we’re not worried about what anyone else is doing. We’re just focusing on becoming the best we can be.”

The Eagles will host the Emory National Tournament next weekend, where they will face Transylvania University (Ky.) on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. and Otterbein University (Ohio) and Berry College (Ga.) on Sept. 7 at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. The Eagles will finish out the tournament with games against Whitworth University (Wash.) and Tufts University (Mass.) on Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.

Editor’s Note: Karissa Dzurik (19B) is a senior staff writer for the Emory Wheel.

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.

Outside hitter Karissa Dzurik (left) and right side hitter Carly Saitman (right) leap for a block in the Eagles’ first round match against Worcester State University (Mass.) Nov. 9. Parth Mody/Photo Editor

The Emory volleyball team won nine straight sets across their three matches Nov. 9 to Nov. 11 to win the 2017 NCAA Division III Atlanta Regional.

Emory won 3-0 against Worcester State University (Mass.) Nov. 9, Christopher Newport University (Va.) Nov. 10 and Berry College (Ga.) Nov. 11.

As regional hosts, the Eagles improved their total home record to 17-1 for the season, their only loss coming at the hands of Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) (Mo.) in the University Athletic Association (UAA) tournament final Nov. 4.

In the first regionals game against Worcester State, the Eagles dominated. But as Head Coach Jenny McDowell noted, “This first match wasn’t an incredibly tough opponent.”

The Eagles have been focusing on serving in practices, and that dedication paid off in the first game. Junior setter Mady Arles, sophomore outside hitter Sara Carr, junior right side Carly Saitman and senior setter Hannah Billings all achieved serving streaks of four or more.

The team also thrived with its net work. Carr attained 27 total attacks and junior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik maintained a .474 kill percentage.

The impressive play continued into the second match for the Eagles, when Christopher Newport hardly stood a chance against the Eagles’ tough offense. Saitman once again thrived with a six-serving streak, forcing Christopher Newport to take not one, but two timeouts in hopes of stymieing Saitman’s aggressive run behind the back line.

The Christopher Newport game also demonstrated Emory’s on-court leadership.

Leaders on the court range from Billings, the team’s sole senior, to younger players like Carr, who brings both an encouraging demeanor and physical talent. Junior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach has also been an important leader for the team, despite having to watch much of the season from the sidelines due to injury. Leimbach leads verbally, according to McDowell.

“We’ve had some great leaders emerge from different classes,” McDowell said. “There’s a real unselfishness on this team.”

Outside hitter Sara Carr (left) prepares a set. Forrest Martin/Contributing

In the regional final, Emory met with a familiar foe in its the third match against Berry this season. Though the Eagles suffered a definitive 3-0 defeat at Berry Oct. 10, Emory bounced back Oct. 28 with a 3-0 sweep of their own to even the season series. With their season on the line, Emory needed to replicate that performance if they wanted to claim the regional crown.

About 250 fans filled the WoodPEC for the final Berry game. Athletes of other Emory teams, with a strong presence from women’s and men’s basketball, crowded onto the bleachers to support their fellow Eagles.

In the final game, the Eagles flourished with a collective 54 digs and use of strategic passing skills. But the team truly shined once again at the net, as demonstrated by the final play of the match.

Starting with a forceful serve from Thompson, Billings set the ball to freshman right side Leah Saunders, who sent the ball back over with a kill. Berry attempted to block the kill, but instead forced the ball out of bounds, delivering the final set and, consequently, the regional title to Emory.

“The championship winning point was an awesome moment,” Billings said.

Billings and McDowell pointed to the importance of team intensity in the practices leading up to their quarterfinal matchup.

“We just have to stay mentally sharp,” McDowell said. “We talk about it all the time: What are the different skills on the court that we can control?”

The team has been succeeding physically, so for Billings it all comes down to the mental game and the attitude her teammates exude on the court.

“My biggest goal for this team is to just have everyone play with confidence, and that’s where we are right now,” Billings said.

The weekend’s wins qualified the Eagles for the NCAA D-III Elite Eight, where they will face off against Ithaca College (N.Y.).

The team will travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., Nov. 14 for a banquet and community service activities before facing off against Ithaca in the quarterfinals Nov. 16 at 12:30 p.m. The winner will proceed to play either Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) or Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.) in the tournament semifinals Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. The championship will be decided Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.

Karissa Dzurik is a staff writer for the Wheel.