GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – With the score tied at one set apiece, the ensemble cast that has carried Wittenberg to the brink of its second NCAA Division III women's volleyball national championship was in need of a lift. To the rescue came the Tigers' lone All-American, and into Saturday's title match went Wittenberg with a 3-1 victory over Hendrix.
The sixth-ranked Tigers defeated Hendrix by set scores of 25-14, 16-25, 25-21, 25-13 to reach the penultimate match for the first time since 2011, when Wittenberg defeated Christopher Newport 3-0. The opponent will be Cal Lutheran, which defeated Carthage in a tense 3-2 semifinal, with the match scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, at Calvin College's Van Noord Arena.
Wittenberg advanced thanks to dominating performances in the first and fourth sets, sandwiched around the kind of scrappy play that in many ways has come to define the Tigers in 2015. After comfortably taking the opening set, the Tigers couldn't get the offense on track in the second frame as the Warriors forced Wittenberg into a negative attack percentage with just four kills against six errors.
The Tigers turned the tide almost immediately, however, winning the first three points of the third set to force an early Hendrix timeout. Wittenberg led wire-to-wire in the third set, but it was anything but comfortable as the Tigers never led by more than five points. While many members of that ensemble cast played key roles, it was four-time All-American Kara Seidenstricker (London, Ohio/Jonathan Alder) who stepped up her game the most with four kills.
That set the stage for a serving exhibition by Seidenstricker that staked the Tigers to an insurmountable early led in the fourth frame. With Wittenberg leading 3-1, Seidenstricker unleashed a torrent of explosive deliveries that expanded the Tigers' lead to 10-1. From there, Wittenberg held off a mid-set surge from Hendrix and closed things on Seidenstricker's last serve of the night.
"I don't think there has been a time this year when we played a better, scrappier defensive team than Hendrix," said Tiger Head Coach Paco Labrador, whose team has won its last two national semifinal games after losing its first three (2005, 2006 and 2007). "They were very good at getting the first ball in the air, but even when that first touch wasn't great they still somehow found a way to get a second touch on the ball and keep the ball alive."
Seidenstricker finished with nine kills in the match, with six coming over the final two sets. Just as importantly, she contributed three assists, three service aces, 23 digs and one solo block in the decisive fourth set.
Senior Melissa Emming (West Chester, Ohio/Mount Notre Dame) also contributed nine kills to the Wittenberg attack, while junior Camila Quiñones (Sunbury, Ohio/Worthington Christian) chipped in with eight kills and junior Kendall Farmer (Gurnee, Ill./Warren Township) and senior Bryanna Jay (Girard, Ohio/Girard) added six kills each. Freshman setter Megan Flaherty (Dublin, Ohio/Coffman) dished out 18 assists to lead Wittenberg in that department.
Wittenberg's defense continued to shine as well, led by senior libero Kristina Fultz (Batavia, Ohio/Glen Este) with 26 digs and Farmer with five blocks. Fultz matched Seidenstricker's ace total with three, while Quinones played a key role at the net with four blocks.
Written By: Ryan Maurer