The Emory University volleyball team will play for the 2018 NCAA D-III Championship following a Friday evening victory over Juniata College in the semifinals. The Eagles won for the 16th time in their last 17 decisions and raised their overall record to 29-6 following a 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 28-26) verdict over JC who closed out its season with a ledger of 28-4. The Championships are being held at the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University.
For the fifth time this season, Emory did not have anybody finish with double-figure kills. Sophomore Leah Saunders topped the club with nine successful attack attempts while senior Karissa Dzurik posted eight terminations. Senior Sydney Leimbach chipped in six kills en route to registering a hitting mark of .357 (6-1—14). Once again, the Eagles ability to dominate in the serving game proved to be a pivotal factor in securing the win as they doled out a season-high tying 14 aces, their 12th match of the year and 10th in the past 16 contests with double figures in that department. Saunders and freshman Kelsey Meins each totaled four aces, with Meins accounting for three of the team's total of seven in the third set, while senior Becky Breuer closed out the night with three. In Emory's five NCAA Tournament matches, it has registered a total of 62 aces over 17 sets of action compared to the opposition's total of 20.
In the first set the score was deadlocked at 6-6 before the Eagles rattled off six unanswered points to bolt to a 12-6 edge. After a kill and an ace by Saunders gave Emory a 14-10 edge, JC responded with a 5-0 spurt to claim a one-point lead. Back-to-back terminations by Juniata staked it to a 21-20 advantage, but the Eagles stunned the similarly named Eagles with five straight points, highlighted by a pair of aces by Saunders and a kill by Leimbach, to capture the first set of the match.
Three kills by Dzurik helped the Eagles race to an 11-4 bulge in the second set. After a pair of Juniata points, a 5-1 Emory burst, which saw Saunders come through with a kill and an ace, pushed it to a 16-7 cushion. After JC got to within four points (19-15), Emory accounted for three of the next four points, the final coming as a result of a Meins' ace, to move ahead by a 22-16 count. Juniata stayed in the hunt with three consecutive points and eventually crept to within a 23-21 margin before a kill by junior Morgan McKnight followed by a Breuer ace finished the set in Emory's favor.
Playing to keep its season alive, Juniata took an 11-5 lead in the third game. However, Emory regrouped to knot the score at 14-14 following a 9-3 run that saw Meins dial up two aces and Breuer one. JC used back-to-back kills from Morgan Edwards to post a 21-17 lead, but Saunders came through with a pair of terminations followed by a block assist with Finn Wilkins as part of a 4-0 run that tied things up at 21-21. With the scored knotted at 23-23, the teams traded service errors before a kill by Edwards put Juniata one point from going into a fourth set. Emory fought that off with a kill by Martin and an ace from Breuer that put it at match point, but a Juniata kill stymied that attempt, tying the score at 26-26. The Eagles finally prevailed when a kill by Dzurik and a ball handling error by Juniata sealed the win.
Emory closed out the match hitting .151 (34-18—106) compared to Juniata's effort of .148 (32-16—108). The Eagles finished with a 51-47 edge in digs, with junior Elyse Thompson heading up the team's effort in that category with 19, while JC enjoyed a 10-3 advantage in total blocks.
Emory will be making its first appearance in the national final since 2014 and will play No. 1-ranked Calvin College on Saturday starting at 7:00 p.m.