GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Sometimes statistics tell only part of the story. No one knows that better than Wittenberg Women's Volleyball Head Coach Paco Labrador, who guided his team to the NCAA Division III Tournament semifinals with a 3-0 over Clarkson.
The sixth-ranked Tigers boast of just one all-region player - the fewest of any of the eight teams assembled for the NCAA Division III Tournament quarterfinals in Grand Rapids, Mich. - yet it is Wittenberg that will continue playing against Hendrix at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, at Calvin College. The Tigers reached the semifinals for the fifth time ever and their first time since a magical 2011 NCAA Division III Tournament title run with tremendous balance and offensive efficiency.
After spotting 18th-ranked Clarkson a 3-0 lead to start the match, the Tigers took control for a stunning 25-11 first set win. Wittenberg did not commit an offensive error in 27 swings, finishing with 11 kills and an attack percentage of .407.
The Tigers did much of their damage through the middle as junior Emily Kahlig (Coldwater, Ohio/Coldwater) put three of her five attempts to the floor. Freshman Megan Flaherty (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman) and junior Courtney Huck (Decatur, Ill./St. Teresa) dished out four assists apiece in the set, and the defense stymied Clarkson into a negative attack percentage.
"I think the setters were doing a really good job of isolating the middles, finding the right times to give the middles the ball," Kahlig said. "I think that they did a really good job of seeing the block on the other side and knowing when to deliver the ball."
The second and third sets were much more evenly played, but Wittenberg continued to attack a far higher percentage throughout. By match end, Wittenberg had punched its ticket to the semifinals by set scores of 25-22 and 25-21 by following the same recipe of offensive distribution combined with exceptional blocking (the final block count was 8-2 in favor of the Tigers) and solid passing from the backcourt.
Senior libero Kristina Fultz (Batavia, Ohio/Glen Este) led the Tigers' defense with 16 digs, while Kahlig and junior Camila Quiñones (Sunbury, Ohio/Worthington Christian) each finished with four blocks. Kahlig led the Tigers with 10 kills and a .562 attack percentage, while Quinones added nine kills on 21 swings without an error.
"It's really nice seeing how our distribution is a lot more even," Fultz said. "In the last two months, our setters have found ways to divvy up their sets, and then we have people who pick it up on days when others are off."
Five different players finished with at least 15 attack attempts in the match as Wittenberg pounded 34 kills against just five errors on 100 swings overall. Flaherty was tops in assists with 15.
Next up for Wittenberg, which improved to 28-2 overall in the 2015-16 season, is Hendrix, which is making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division III semifinals. The Warriors suprised second-ranked Emory in the Round of 16 and then maintained the momentum in the day's first quarterfinal match with a 3-2 win over Bethel. Wittenberg and Hendrix have never met on the volleyball court.
Clarkson, which has reached the NCAA Division III Tournament quarterfinals four straight years, saw its season conclude with a record of 30-9.
The winner of Friday's national semifinal match between Wittenberg and Hendrix will advance to the national championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21. The Tigers have reached the title match one previous time and came away with a 3-0 win over Christopher Newport in 2011 in a match played at Washington University.
Written By: Ryan Maurer