DIII: Stevens Advances to National Finals of Molten Championship in Sweep of UC-Santa Cruz


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MAHWAH, N.J. - Senior middle hitter Andrew Cranford of the second-ranked Stevens Institute of Technology men's volleyball team helped to propel the squad to its first-ever national title match appearance after the Ducks upended the University of California-Santa Cruz in the semifinal of the 2009 Division III Molten Volleyball Championship Friday night in Mahwah, N.J. The victory marks the first time in the Duck's sixth trip to the Molten Tournament that the squad has advanced to the final match. Recently named the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Year, Cranford produced a .429 hitting percentage with 11 kills on 21 swings and tallied six total blocks. Stevens will play Juniata College for the national title on Saturday, which is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.

Check back for complete results and team stats later tonight. A fan bus will be provided once again for those who are looking for transportation to and from the Ramapo College campus. It will depart from Jonas Hall on Stevens campus in Hoboken, N.J. at 6 p.m. Call or email Executive Assistant for Athletics Laurie Kwiatkowski at 201-216-5627 Laurie.Kwiatkowski@stevens.edu to reserve a seat. Otherwise you can show up to the bus; however those who have secured a spot will have seating priority.

The way the Ducks muscled their way through the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association Championship Tournament to be crowned champs two weeks ago, Stevens carried the same intensity and momentum into tonight's hard-fought win over UC-Santa Cruz. The Ducks led for the majority of Sets 1 and 2, then clawed back late into Set 3 to complete the sweep of the Banana Slugs.

Game 1 was back and forth throughout the entire contest. The set featured 13 score ties and three lead changes. Having trailed by two (17-15), Cranford swung the momentum back in favor of Stevens off a kill that landed right in front of the attack line. An attacking error by the Banana Slugs then brought the set to a 17-17 deadlock. The set was then tied at 18 and 19 before an ace by Cranford put the Ducks back on top (20-19). Stevens went on a 10-5 run to close out the set, as a pair of kills from both outside hitters, sophomore SteFan PremDas and senior Joe Trinsey helped to secure the 30-24 victory. Senior outside hitter Tomas Bochicchio led the offensive attack having blasted four kills. Cranford and PremDas tallied three apiece to guide the Ducks to a 1-0 advantage on the match. Senior middle hitter Doug Reger had two blocks, while sophomore setter Brandt Grobeis dished out nine assists.

Stevens maintained a three-point lead throughout the majority of Game 2. The Ducks jumped out to a 6-2 advantage, however the Banana Slugs battled back to pull within one (12-11). Stevens then posted a 4-1 spurt off of a kill from Bochicchio and a pair off the hot hand of Cranford. UC slowly crept back into the set to once again come within one (21-20). The Ducks kept a stronghold of the lead, however Santa Cruz fought back to tie the set at 25 and 26. The seesaw effect of trading points came to end as Trinsey and PremDas registered kills at 27 and 29, respectively. Bochicchio gave Stevens a 2-0 advantage on the match when his serve tipped off the top portion of the tape (net) and fell straight down on the hardwood for point 30 (30-26 SIT). Four members for Stevens notched three kills in the win (Bochicchio, Cranford, Reger and Trinsey). Grobeis connected on 13 assists, while Cranford and PremDas each tallied a pair of blocks.

Arguably one of the most exciting sets played by the Ducks where they were able to fight back against a very talented opponent came in Set 3 of tonight's win. Teams traded points in the early going before Santa Cruz went ahead 10-8. The Banana Slugs then maintained at least a two-point lead until the Ducks knotted the game at 17-all. Stevens went ahead off an ace from Reger, however a service error and attacking error by Stevens swung the set back in favor of the Banana Slugs. Stevens hung tough to come back and tie the set at 25-25. An attack error by UC, followed up with a kill from Bochicchio gave the Ducks a two point advantage. Two-consecutive side-outs by Stevens allowed Santa Cruz to stay in the match. It was then tied at 28 and 29 before Cranford landed a kill, and an attack by the Banana Slugs went wide of the court to have Stevens win Set 3, 31-29. Cranford led the way with five kills and two blocks. Trinsey and PremDas each had three kills in the win. Grobeis dished out 12 assists, while Bochicchio had four kills.

Overall, Stevens manufactured a .341 hitting percentage and tallied 12.5 total blocks. Santa Cruz posted a team attacking rating of .204 and had just four team blocks. Bochicchio led the way with Cranford in kills (11) as also lifted seven digs for the Ducks. Grobeis finished with 34 assists and four blocks. PremDas and Trinsey each had eight kills, while PremDas notched four total blocks and Trinsey added a pair.

The Ducks will now face the Eagles of Juniata for the National Title. A season that began back in January for Stevens, has now come down to one last final game. Seven seniors will take the court in what will be their last match in a Duck uniform. As for Juniata, the Ducks have fallen to the Eagles twice over the past two seasons in five games. The squads have taken each other into extra play both times with Juniata coming out on top. In both losses, the Eagles have jumped out to a two-set lead. Stevens came back both times to take Games 3 and 4, however would fall in the fifth. This is sure to be a very exciting and emotional championship match. If you are in the New Jersey area, be sure to take advantage of the FREE fan bus that will take you to and from the Ramapo campus. The bus will depart at 6 p.m. outside of Jonas Hall on Stevens' campus. Scores for January 23, 2008 - 22-30, 24-30, 30-20, 30-26, 15-17. Scores for February 12, 2009 -  21-30, 25-30, 30-25, 30-27, 19-21.

Article courtesy of Stevens athletics.

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