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Volleyball News & Highlights

November 10, 2012

Eagles Top Mustangs in Three to Advance

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Kearby Benak celebrates with her team after a big point in the three-set win over Steveonson. Benak reached 1000 career kills with her lone kill in the second set.

SALISBURY, Md.- With a three-set win over Stevenson, Eastern University Volleyball avenged a mid-season loss and advanced to a Regional Final for the third time in four years. Freshman outside hitter Erin Hillman continued her run of stellar play int he NCAA Tournament with 12 kills on 24 swings to lead the Eastern attack.

The first set was as close as it could possibly be. Neither team led by more than two points through the entire set. Stevenson (36-3) had beat the Eagles in five close sets earlier in the year, and the pressure of the first set was palpable. It appeared that the Mustangs picked up the first big break of the match with an ace off the tape to go up 18-16. The Eagles then scored three straight points to take the match back to a side-out affair.

After first-year setter Rikki Schlager tipped into a hole for a side-out, the Eagles scored a point on serve after a tremendous dig by Morgan Butterbaugh on a tight angle shot. Kearby Benak banged home her fourth kill of the match and 998th of her career for the 23-21 lead. The Eagles were able to earn the final two points of the set on a Benak kill and a double block from Benak and senior middle Rachel Wenger.

Hillman and Benak each had five kills in the critical opening set. 

"I love playing in these kind of games," Hillman said after the match, "We were prepared and everyone played so well." Hillman was only a couple inches away from recording another error-less match. She finished with a .458 hitting percentage for the afternoon.

The Eagles used timely blocking and a strong start from Lauren Sproles to jump to a 14-7 lead in the second set. The Eagles hit only .190 in the set, but they picked up five points on blocks, and the Mustangs missed the court on five more swings for ten points in the set.

"We were in the right spots in the first set," Head Coach Mark Birtwistle said, "but in the second set we were able to execute."  Even when the Mustangs were able to score points, it seemed that they were hitting off or through Eastern hands. Rachel Wenger was part of three blocks in the set.

Benak finished the set with her 1000th career kill. The junior joins eight other Eastern players who have reached that plateau.

The third set started poorly for the No. 21 Eagles. A combination of service error receptions and big swings from the Mustangs prompted Birtwistle to call a timeout with his team down 6-0.

"That one," he said, "was to lay into them a little bit. We needed to refocus."

Hillman executed with a shot to the back right corner for a side-out, but the Mustangs answered with a side-out from Imani Hudson. Hillman knocked a kill off a double block for a side-out to keep the deficit at 7-2.

Benak, the Freedom Conference Player of the Year, then showed her versatility with two tremendous digs on open swings to keep the point alive. Sproles rolled a kill into a spot to close the gap to 7-3.  

From there, the Eagles began to gain momentum. Kelly Groff served two more points. After a pair of side-outs, the Eagles grabbed the lead at 9-8 on two straight kills from sophomore middle Katrina Pisch. Pisch had five kills and three blocks for the day.

The set remained tight. The Eagles grabbed an 18-16 lead on a transition kill from Hillman, and Pisch hammered home a slide for another Eastern side-out to 19-17.

Butterbaugh then delivered a pair of service aces to build the Eastern cushion to 21-17. Her first serve caught the sideline and her second serve floated up into the passer in a deep spot.

"We really had to adjust some of our serving," Birtwsitle noted, "We had to serve some short to get them out of rhythm. That number 6 [Hudson], if she gets in a rhythm, she's really tough, so we had to try to do some things to change their rhythm."

The four-point lead looked enormous, but the Mustangs were able to side-out and then score on an ace that caught both lines in the back corner. Birtwistle took a time-out to settle his team.

Out of the time-out, the Eagles got a perfect pass from Benak and Schlager found Wenger on a slide. Wenger banged home her third kill of the match for a 24-21 edge. Stevenson earned the side-out, but another steady pass from Benak set up a first-swing side-out for Hillman to end the match.

Eastern hit .326 for the match. Groff had 13 digs and Benak finished with 12. Schlager finished with a match-best 32 assists. Christine Isenberg led a balanced Stevenson attack with nine kills.

The win lifts the Eagles (30-5) into their fourth Regional Final in the last five years. It is the seventh time that Coach Birtwistle has taken a team to the Round of 16. It also gives Eastern Volleyball (30-5) a thirty-win season for the fifth straight season. Eastern has accomplished that feat nine times in the last 11 seasons.

Eastern will take on the winner of Salisbury and Richard Stockton College tomorrow at 4 pm for a chance to return to the National finals. This year, the final eight will play on the campus of Hope College in Holland Michigan.

Box Score

Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2012

Coaches

Mark Birtwistle

Mark Birtwistle

Coach Birtwistle has won more than 500 games and 16 Conference Championships as Eastern's Volleyball Coach

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