Courtesy of Juniata College Athletics
PITTSBURGH, Pa.- The Juniata women’s volleyball team capped off a fantastic season with a dominant performance in the National Championship as they walloped Trinity University, 3-0 (25-17, 25-11, 25-23), to leave no doubt that they were the best team in the country.
The team won their 27th consecutive game, 34th overall, and it was the 23rd match of the season they won in three sets. For the program, it is their third national title, as they become one of just five women’s volleyball programs to have won three national championships.
Olivia Foley, Mackenzie Coley, and Lily Podolan were named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team. Foley was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The mood in the gym was electric before the match even started, as the Juniata faithful made their presence known that this was not, in fact, a neutral sight match.
Sydney Ohl started the match with an ace, and the Eagles were off. Kennedy Christy followed with a kill, and Courtney Williams bopped a ball down that the Trinity defender couldn’t handle to make it 3-0. After a Tiger kill, they committed an error, and Coley and Christy combined for a big block on the All-American opposite for Trinity. The teams traded points, with Coley bashing another ball off the floor. With the score at 6-3, Christy went off the block for a kill; Coley rose without a block on the other side for an easy kill, and Christy followed with two straight aces. The Tigers called a timeout, but to no avail, as Audrey Muth crushed a ball off a Tiger to make it 11-6. Later, another Eagle run sparked by a kill and a solo block by Muth and followed by an error by the Tigers and Foley pushing the ball into a vacated back corner was capped with a big block by Podolan, and Williams made it 18-8. The Tigers started to show signs of life as they got within five at 21-16before Christy fired down the line for one kill and smashed another to bring JC to 23. Coley crushed another ball from the middle, Juniata fans knew what to do for set point as they stood up, and the slow clap began. Coley did the rest as she terminated a free ball to end set one 25-17.
Juniata hit .297 in the opening set while holding Trinity to .108
The second set was a culmination of the excellence Juniata had displayed all year as they put together a genuinely dominant set. Juniata had it going early as Christy found more success down the line; Foley had a slick behind-her-head dump before Christy demolished another ball for an early 5-2 lead. With the score at 10-6, the Eagles took over. Muth went off the block; Christy continued her success down the left sideline with two straight kills in the same spot; Podolan battered a ball off the Tiger libero and followed with two more kills for good measure to make it 16-6. The Tigers called timeout but once again to no avail, as Williams and Podolan combined for a block, and Podolan tallied her fourth kill of the run. A Trinity attack error made it 19-6 as Juniata completed their 9-0 sprint. Juniata cruised the rest of the way, with Kiona Sky Rousset-Hernandez getting in on the fun with a kill as she plopped a ball right in the middle of the Tiger defense to make it 21-8. Coley had two of the final three points as she smacked down two more kills, with the second one winning the set 25-11 as the Eagle faithful went nuts in the stands.
Juniata was on fire in the set as they hit a robust .450 while holding the Tigers to a mere .027.
The third set was by far the most competitive, with the Tigers hanging around most of the way, but it FELT like the Eagles were in control the whole way. Podolan opened the set with a floor-rattling kill, Muth and Coley paired for a massive block at 10-6, McKenna Walker made one of her many impressive diving digs, and that ended in a Muth kill. A neat Foley set got Muth a swing with no block, and she blasted the ball to the floor to make it 16-12. The Tigers hung tough late as the team’s traded points down the stretch, with another nifty Foley dump pushing the score to 21-19. With the score at 21-20, Foley got Muth another swing without a block, and the freshman from Portsmouth, Va, did the rest. Ohl came up with back-to-back aces to push Juniata to Championship point. Juniata fans rose again and began to clap, but the Tigers had other ideas. They took the following three points to get within one at 24-23, but a Williams swing saw the Tigers try and keep the ball alive. However, the ball landed out of bounds on the Eagle’s side of the net, and the celebration was on.
A testament to the balance this team has played with all year, three Eagles had double-digit kills while another had nine. Podolan tallied 12 kills (.360) along with Coley (.333), while Christy (.235) had 11, and Muth totaled nine (.409). Foley had the offense humming as she totaled 41 assists, and the team hit .318 in the match.
Ohl showed up in a big way in the biggest game of the season, as she had a career-high 19 digs to go with her three aces. Rousset-Hernandez was second in digs with 15, while Christy added 11 and Walker tallied 10. JC, as a team, had a perfect night of serve receive as they had zero reception errors.
The run through the tournament for this team has been one for the ages, as the Eagles hit .342 and held their opponents to .107 average across the six matches. The team amassed an absurd 56 aces across the six games, as they broke double digits six times (16 against the University of Northwestern, ten against Christopher Newport, and 11 against Keene State.) The Eagles averaged 14.85 kills per set while holding opponents to a measly 8.25.
Head Coach Heather Pavlik ’95 added her first national championship as a head coach; she was an assistant on the 2004 and 2006 teams. This is the second time experiencing the feeling of victory confetti for Associate Head Coach Casey Dale ’07, as he was a student assistant for the 2006 team.
The Eagles finish the year 34-1, having avenged their only loss in the National Championship, taking their National Championship trophy, their 27-game winning streak, and heading off into the next nine months as the indisputable best team in