The Emory volleyball team lost 3-0 in the 2019 NCAA Division III Women’s Volleyball Championship game against Johns Hopkins University (Md.) on Nov. 23 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to conclude an excellent season as the national runner-up. The Eagles beat Clarkson University (N.Y.) on Nov. 21 and Carthage College (Wis.) on Nov. 22 to reach the final finished with an overall record of 34-3 and held the No. 1 national ranking for the majority of the season.
Despite failing to repeat as national champions, junior middle hitter Finn Wilkins believes the season has been a resounding success.
“The loss in the national championship shouldn’t define any part of this season,” Wilkins said. “Throughout this season there was so much to be proud of, and we earned every single win.”
Emory began the final rounds of the tournament in Cedar Rapids with a quarterfinal matchup against Clarkson University. The match was perfectly even after two sets with each team winning one set by the score of 25-22. In the third set, the Eagles broke the deadlock with a dominant 25-12 scoreline in which they scored at least three straight points on five separate occasions. Clarkson, unfazed by the lopsided third set, responded with a 25-22 fourth-set win to force a deciding fifth set. Clarkson’s only lead during the fifth set came during the first three points as the Eagles moved on to the semifinals with a 15-11 victory.
Senior outside hitter Morgan McKnight was the offensive star for the Eagles this match with a game-high 22 kills on a superb .404 hitting percentage. Senior libero Elyse Thompson and junior right side hitter Leah Saunders had 18 and 14 digs, respectively, and Saunders added 16 kills to compliment her defense.
Head Coach Jenny McDowell said she is proud of seniors’ performances in their last collegiate tournament and the manner in which they have represented the program.
“This group of seniors is the only group to have ever gone to four straight Elite Eights, win three out of four UAA titles and go to consecutive national championship games,” McDowell said. “Not only are they great volleyball players … but they are even better people who have left a legacy of love, commitment and passion.”
The following day, the Eagles started strongly against Carthage College in the semifinal and comfortably won the first set 25-19 before winning 11 straight points to take a commanding 19-8 lead in the second set. Carthage stormed back late in the set to cut the lead to 23-21, but the Eagles hung on for a 25-23 set win.
With a 2-0 set lead and a 14-6 lead in the third set, the Eagles looked like they were well on their way to the national championship game. But Carthage had other intentions and took a remarkable 19 of the last 21 points to secure the third set 25-16 and keep their own title hopes alive. Carthage continued their momentum into the fourth set, winning 25-20 to set up a win or go home fifth set.
Emory still seemed unable to handle Carthage’s runs as they opened with another five straight points en route to a 7-4 lead. Yet, the Eagles stopped the bleeding with a run of their own to take a 13-11 lead. Carthage managed to even the score at 14-14 before the Eagles won the last two points to win the set 16-14 and clinch their place in the title game.
Wilkins said the ability to stop a Carthage team full of momentum was a true representation of the team’s character.
“It was simply a game of ups and downs for both teams, but what mattered most in that match was our work ethic and determination,” Wilkins said. “This team is truly a team of fighters, and we don’t get down after a few unfortunate plays.”
Junior middle hitter Maggie Rimmel, sophomore outside hitter Tara Martin, Saunders and McKnight all had double-digit kills, while senior defensive specialist Maureen Schick, Saunders and Thompson all reached the double-digit digs mark. Wilkins also helped defensively with a team-high five blocks.
In their second consecutive national championship match, Emory squared off against a formidable Johns Hopkins team that was a perfect 34-0 entering the match. The Eagles came up agonizingly short in both the first two sets as Johns Hopkins took the first set 25-23 and the second 25-22 despite Emory being down only 23-22 once in both sets. The Eagles, having been so difficult to beat in tight sets all season, were unable to find the edge at the end of sets against Johns Hopkins. With their first program title in sight, Johns Hopkins dispatched the defending champion Eagles in the third set 25-18 and secured the title.
Coach McDowell credits Johns Hopkins for playing well but still said the team was capable of getting a better result.
“Johns Hopkins was an excellent team,” McDowell said. “But there’s no doubt I think we could have played better in that match.”
With the 2019 season behind them, Wilkins believes the team will be primed and ready to return in 2020 as one of the best programs in the country.
“We enter each season with the same mindset and hold ourselves to the expectation that we will make it to those final moments at nationals,” Wilkins said. “Super excited for everyone to challenge themselves so we can welcome our new freshman class into an even more elite program.”