No. 8 Ohio Northern Upsets No. 5 Wittenberg to Reach Great Lakes Regional Final


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SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - Unfortunately for the Wittenberg Tigers, history does repeat itself. Nearly five years to the day after the Ohio Northern Polar Bears pulled off an improbable 3-2 comeback victory in the NCAA Division III Great Lakes Regional championship match, they did it again, this time in the semifinals of the regional.

The location and the victim - Wittenberg's Pam Evans Smith Arena and the highly ranked Tigers - were the same both times. In both instances, the Polar Bears rallied from two games down to capture a two-point win in the fifth and deciding set.

The 2008 edition propelled Ohio Northern, seeded No. 3 in the region and ranked No. 8 nationally after capturing the regular season and tournament championships in the Ohio Athletic Conference, into the regional title match against No. 3 ranked Washington University at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, also in Pam Evans Smith Arena. Fifth-ranked and second-seeded Wittenberg saw its Cinderella run through the 2008 season come to a close with a record of 33-3 after taking the top spot in both the regular season and tournament in the North Coast Athletic Conference.

The final statistics bear out just how phenomenally close this match was as ONU attacked at a .212 clip while recording 65 digs, 63 kills and 56 assists, compared to Wittenberg's .206 attack percentage, 66 digs, 59 assists and 63 kills. In the end analysis, the final margin can be essentially chalked up to two more Ohio Northern kills and two more Wittenberg attack errors.

Wittenberg won the opening set convincingly 25-20, thanks in part to a .303 attack percentage. The second set was much closer, but the Tigers made an early lead stand up by pulling out the final two points on a kill by freshman right-side hitter Christine Simpson and a block by senior outside hitter Kathleen Graham and senior middle hitter Jessica Kimble for a 28-26 win.

Ohio Northern turned the tables in Sets 3 and 4, however, evening up the match by scores of 25-20 and 25-19 with a combination of scrappy defense and powerful offensive play from All-American middle hitter Liz Schnelle. That set the stage for a scintillating fifth set in which Wittenberg held a 9-7 lead until ONU called a timeout. The Polar Bears then reeled off five straight points to take control. A Wittenberg rally fell one point short, however, as Renee Berry put the final ball to the floor for a 15-13 win.

Wittenberg was paced offensively by senior right-side hitter Jackie Williams with 20 kills, while Simpson wasn't far behind with 16 and a .500 attack percentage. Junior setters Erin Slattery and Kendall Obreza split 52 assists right down the middle, while senior libero Laura Fender topped the team with 23 digs. Along the way, Fender broke the school record for career digs, finishing with 2,697 to top Emilie Schmid's four-year-old mark. Also of note were the six blocks posted by junior middle hitter Kate Snead.

The ONU offense was sparked by Schnelle with a match-high 26 kills on 55 swings and a .382 attack percentage. Berry added 12 kills, as did setter Katie Weininger, who attacked at a .435 clip. Weininger also had 45 assists and 11 digs for a well-deserved triple-double. Kasey Roeser led the Polar Bears with 15 digs, while Schnelle was tops with four blocks.

Article courtesy of Wittenberg athletics.

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