Washington University in St. Louis Captures National Championship


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University Heights, Ohio - The No. 4 Washington University in St. Louis volleyball team defeated No. 1 Juniata College, 3-1 (18-25, 26-24, 25-17, 25-21) to capture the 2009 NCAA Division III National Championship on Saturday, Nov. 21, at the DeCarlo Varsity Center in University Heights, Ohio. In the process, Washington University increases its NCAA-record national championship total to 10, and the Bears capture the NCAA title for the first time since 2007.

Sophomore middle hitter Lauren Budde was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 NCAA Championship, as she led the Bears with 15 kills and five total blocks in the victory over Juniata. The six-rotation middle hitter was also second on the team with 21 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Kristen Thomas and freshman libero Kelly Pang joined Budde on the All-Tournament Team.

Thomas hit .333 in the national championship match, tallying 12 kills, five digs and two service aces. She reached double-digit kills in all three matches at the NCAA Championship. Pang, who was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III National Freshman of the Year earlier in the week, compiled 30 digs in the national championship match. She also increased her Washington University single-season record dig tally to 702, shattering the old mark of 606, set by Nicole Hodgman in another national championship season, 2003.

"I think that it is very important to keep in mind that even though we have several girls on the team who have won at nationals, and been in this position before, a majority of the girls on the court were freshmen and sophomores. And for them to come out and play at this level was amazing," senior captain Laura Brazeal said.

It is the third national title for WU head coach Rich Luenemann, who also led his team to the pinnacle of Division III volleyball in 2003 and 2007. Saturday marked the sixth time Luenemann has guided a team to the national championship match, and he improves to 3-3 all-time in national title contests and 43-8 in all NCAA Tournament competition.

"From the time that you see us step out on the court, with the intensity and the emotion and the focus that we have, this is easily one of the greatest success stories I have ever been a part of," Luenemann said.
One of the most intense rivalries in the country, Saturday night marked the fifth time Washington U. and Juniata College have met to decide the national championship, with WU holding a 3-2 edge in those meetings. The last time the Bears and Eagles met in the title match was 2006, where Juniata picked up a 3-2 win in Salem, Va. Washington U. leads the all-time series with Juniata, 17-13.

Too many errors, both forced and unforced, early in the match cost the Bears in the opening set. Washington U. was facing a 9-2 deficit as a result of a serving error, a pair of reception errors and two attacking errors and the Red and Green never fully managed to overcome the slow start.

Washington University did rally to pull within two points at the midway point of the first, but Juniata quickly pushed its lead back to five. Senior middle hitter Erin Albers and freshman setter Marilee Fisher recorded a terminal block on an attack by Kelsey Fuller and the Bears were within two points when Budde made a great dig on a tipped ball and Fisher won a joust at the net. Juniata's Drew Barnhart registered a kill on the next point, sparking a 3-0 run put Juniata back in command.

Neither team found much success offensively in the opening frame, as Washington U. hit just .108 as a team and Juniata attacked .161 with 11 kills in the winning effort.  The Eagles did record five points off blocks, compared to just three for the Bears.

Washington University saw a late 23-18 lead in the second set evaporate to a 6-1 Juniata scoring run that knotted the score at 24-24, but the Bears won the next two points to escape with a 26-24 win and put them on their way to a four-set win.

Serving was a weakness for WU in the first set, but it was a definite strength in the second as the Bears' strong serving kept Juniata on its heels and helped WU open a 14-7 lead. Junior Marya Kaminski killed an overpass that was mishandled by the Eagles following a serve from Budde, and an ace from Budde on the next attempt put the Red and Green up 12-6. The lead was stretched to 14-7 when sophomore Tricia Brandt sent a difficult serve off Juniata libero Megan Sollenberger for an ace, the third of the set for Washington U.

"Any time that you can serve tough, that means you have make the other team's setter run the offense from the 10-foot line, which means you put their offense in jeopardy," Luenemann said. "Our serving was an incredibly important part of this game tonight, it kept Juniata attacking off the net and it kept them from using their fast option."

Outside hitter Paige Johnston had five kills in the second set and two of them came during Juniata's late run to tie the score. Needing a point to keep Juniata from having a shot at set point, Budde rolled a kill off the tape and the Bears won on a Kristin Noetzel attacking error.

WU was much more efficient offensively in the second, hitting .220 with 16 kills. Albers had four kills after netting zero through one set. The Bears' passing was also back on track, and Pang had a match-high 15 digs through two sets.

Kaminski and Budde powered Washington U. to a 25-17 win in the third set, tallying five and four kills apiece. Neither team gained much of an advantage early in the frame, until a 4-1 WU run, capped off by a Budde tip for a kill gave the Red and Green a 15-11 lead. Another Budde kill pushed the Bears' advantage to 18-12, before Juniata rattled off three quick points to halve their the WU lead.

From that point Kaminski asserted herself offensively, tallying her 10th kill of the match to end the Juniata run and her 11th to put Washington University ahead 20-16, and spark a 5-0 run to effectively clinch a 2-1 lead for the Bears. Washington University was outstanding offensively in the third, hitting .378 with 19 kills.

Once Washington University went ahead 8-4 in the fourth set Juniata was never able to pull any closer than two points for the rest of the match. On four occasions the Bears led by four points and finally WU created some additional distance when a Budde kill provided a 17-12 lead. Freshman Drew Hargrave powered a shot off a blocker and out of play for a kill on the next point, and WU was up by seven, 19-12, as Budde blocked Amanda Schmidt.

WU seniors Albers and Brazeal will leave the Danforth Campus with two national championships, becoming the first senior class to do so since WU ended its string of six-straight national championships in 1996.

"With both teams it was an amazing experience because the team really came together toward the end of the season," Brazeal said. "This season especially we started off with great team chemistry from the beginning, and that is what made this season amazing for me and I think for the other girls as well."

courtesy Washington-St. Louis athletics

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