The Emory University volleyball team has moved into the semifinal round of the NCAA D-III Championships following a Thursday evening victory over Ithaca College in the quarterfinals. The Eagles won for the 15th time in their last 16 decisions and boosted their overall record to 28-6 following a 3-1 (25-23, 22-25, 25-23, 25-16) decision over the Bombers who closed out their season at 21-8. The Championships are being held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University.
Sophomore Leah Saunders paced a balanced Emory attack with 11 kills while junior Morgan McKnight gave the Eagles a much-needed lift with 10 terminations, nine coming over the final three sets, to go along with a glowing hitting mark of .529 (10-1—17). It represented McKnight's 10th double-figure kills match of the campaign and first since October 18. Senior Sydney Leimbach and sophomore Tara Martin each contributed nine kills with Leimbach adding three (1-2) total blocks. Sophomore Finn Wilkins tied for match honors with five total (1-4) blocks.
Emory closed out the match hitting .205 (53-23—146) compared to the Bombers' effort of .161 (48-24—149). The Eagles finished with a 67-63 edge in digs, with junior Elyse Thompson heading up the team's effort in that category with 20, while Ithaca posted a 9-8 advantage in total blocks. Emory kept Ithaca off balance with 12 service aces, its 11th match of the year and ninth in the past 15 contests with double figures in that department. Saunders accounted for four of those aces while Thompson produced three.
The opening set of the match was a defensive battle with both teams hitting under .100. A 3-0 Emory run gave it a 16-13 advantage which it extended to 19-15 following block assists by Leimbach and Wilkins. A kill by McKnight gave the Eagles a 24-20 cushion, but three straight points by the Bombers sliced their deficit to one point. Serving with a chance to tie things up, Ithaca served the ball out of bounds to give Emory a 1-0 match lead.
Ithaca bolted out to a 10-5 lead in the second set before a kill by Saunders allowed the Eagles to creep to within two points at 12-10. A 7-3 spurt by the Bombers gave them some breathing room at 19-13, which they extended to 22-15. Emory responded with a furious 6-0 blitz, saw Martin and Arles record kills and Becky Breuer dole out an ace, to battle back to within a 22-21 count. However, the Bombers picked up three of the next four points to even the match.
After Emory raced to a 4-0 lead to open the third set, Ithaca regroup to rattle off a 10-1 barrage to move to a 10-5 margin. The Eagles moved to within a pair following a kill by senior Mila Barzdukas, but the Bombers accounted for six of the next nine points to lay claim to a 20-15 lead. After the teams exchanged points, a strong serving run by Kelsey Meins, which saw her dial up a pair of aces, helped result in a 5-0 spree that tied the score at 21-21. After an Ithaca point, a kill by Martin followed by back-to-back aces by Saunders enabled the Eagles take a 24-22 advantage. The Bombers stayed alive following an Eory attack error but a kill by Leimbach closed out the set, boosting the Eagles to a 2-1 match lead.
Rejuvenated by the comeback, the fourth set belonged to the Eagles, as they raced out to a 5-0 lead. Ithaca did move to within a three-point margin but a 9-2 Emory run, keyed by two kills by Martin and back-to-back aces by Thompson, moved it to an 18-8 cushion. Kills by McKnight and Saunders distanced the Eagles even further at 21-9, before finally closing out the match.
Emory will be making its first appearance in the national semifinals since 2014 and will play either Juniata College or Wesleyan University (CT) on Friday starting at 7:30 p.m.
Emory Press Conference can be viewed here: http://vcloud.volarvideo.com/broadcast/embed/98385