GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN—Wittenberg women's volleyball returned to the Elite Eight for the eighth time in school history, as the Tigers squared off against the Swarthmore College Garnets. The Garnets and Tigers had never met prior to Thursday night's contest, as the National Committee reseeded both programs #1 and #8 respectively. Swarthmore's road to the Elite Eight included knocking out Randolph-Macon, #10 Carnegie Mellon and #12 Johns Hopkins in NCAA Regional play. Wittenberg's road to Grand Rapids included knocking off Penn State-Behrend, #19 Juniata and #20 Ohio Northern at the Otterbein Great Lakes Regional. On Thursday, Coach Labrador's squad battled a scrappy Swarthmore team, but dispatched the Garnet's in straight sets; 25-15, 29-27 and 25-19. The Tigers trip to the national semifinal is the sixth time that Wittenberg has made the Final Four, and the third time in the last six seasons.
HOW IT HAPPENED: Wittenberg jumped out to a 5-1 lead as Aubrey Cox recorded her first kill of the night on an assist from Karen Wildemann. The Tigers would let the Garnet's hang around in the first set, but the Tigers were eventually able to pull away at 21-14 after a Swarthmore attack error. Kennedey Schmidt ended the set for the Tigers on a big swing on a slide play, taking the first set 25-15. Swarthmore took a commanding lead in the second set over the Tigers, as Wittenberg would claw back to tie the set up at 20-20, 22-22, 24-24 and 25-25. A service error and an attack error with the match tied at 27-27 would put the Tigers over the Garnets, going up 2-0 in the match. After allowing Swarthmore to jump out to a 4-1 lead in the third set, Wittenberg turned it on from the service line, and managed to go on a run that gave them a 22-15 lead. Wittenberg would go on to take the set 25-19, and the match, advancing to the NCAA's Final Four.
WHO STOOD OUT: Maddie Fischer (13) and Aubrey Cox (10) combined for 23 kills in the match, as the Tigers recorded a hitting percentage of .189. Despite handing the Garnet's a plethora of points off service errors and hitting errors, the Tigers defense stepped up when it mattered, holding the Garnet's to a .050 hitting percentage, while recording eight total blocks. WIldemann dished out 33 assists, while Taylor Yontz chipped in 21 digs for the Tigers.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Wittenberg now faces the winner of Johnson and Wales and Calvin College. The Tigers are 13-14 all time against Calvin, and have never played Johnson and Wales in school history. Wittenberg's sixth trip to the Final Four is third in the last six years, as the Tigers won the national championship in 2011, and came in second place in 2015. The Tigers are now 6-2 all-time in NCAA quarterfinal play, and are 2-3 all-time in semifinal play. Hear what Coach Labrador, Cox and Wildemann had to say in the post-game press-conference below.