After a slow start dropping the opening set for only the third time this season, Wheeling Jesuit turned the tide in a big way and blocked past the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, 3-1, to march into the NCAA Division II Volleyball Final Four afternoon.
The Mountain Lions (29-4) started the match on a 6-1 run and never trailed in the first set of a 25-17 win. The Cardinals (37-4), though, were not to be denied the rest of the afternoon. Behind outstanding matches by juniors Emma Schleucher and Haley Kindall, WJU dominated the third set, 25-14, and outlasted UAFS in the fourth set, 25-23, before Lauran Graves killed the final match-deciding point, 25-18, of set five.
In its fifth-straight Elite Eight trip, Wheeling Jesuit advances to the Final Four for the second time in three years after it snapped Arkansas-Fort Smith’s 28-match win streak. The Cardinals moved on to the national semifinals for the first time in 2013 two seasons ago.
WJU will now face the Western Washington in the first DII semifinal , , with first serve. Western Washington (27-5) defeated Rockhurst, 3-1, in second Elite Eight matchup. Wheeling Jesuit opened the 2015 season with a 3-0 victory over the same Western Washington team on the same University of Tampa floor by scores of 25-22, 26-24, and 25-22.
“I am excited for our players to get this win and opportunity,” said WJU head coach Christy Benner. “After the first game, we were trying to feel each other out. We focused on how we wanted to block them and as the match progressed, we got smarter on how to block them.”
And block they did. The Cardinals registered 11 of their team’s 13 blocks in the final three sets. Middle blocker Kindall paced the WJU blocking effort with three solos and five block assists, while freshman Graves added six block assists.
“We have such great team chemistry. They tested us, but as they adjusted to us, it opened up other hitters,” said Kindall.
One of those hitters, who saw the most hitting success, was Schleucher. The right side spiker slammed a match-high and season-high 18 kills in 39 swings.
“AT (setter Andrea Thobe) and I were working well together on the right side. Everyone (on the team) did amazing. We knew if we controlled (the play) on our side of the court, we would have success,” pointed out Schleucher.
Along with Schleucher, Kindall downed 13 kills of her own. Graves downed nine kills in 17 attacks with a .471 hit percentage, while Kayce Krucki added nine kills.
Jessica Thobe and Sam Obringer had their best performances on the Cardinals defense this season. Thobe dug 33 attacks, while Obringer had 23, both season-highs. Krucki chipped in 13 digs.
Setter Andrea Thobe handed out 51 set assists and dug 13 attacks for a double-double. She was also part of three block assist tandems.