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Mount Union Volleyball Wins First-Ever OAC Title

November 7, 2011

History was made as the Mount Union volleyball team defeated No. 9 Heidelberg in a thrilling five-set match to claim the program's first Ohio Athletic Conference title. The Purple Raiders (24-7) and head coach Leigh Ann Swartz put an exclamation point on their NCAA Tournament résumé, but now must wait to learn their fate during the selection show at 11 a.m. on Monday.

Having already clinched the OAC's automatic bid by advancing to the finals, Heidelberg (31-6) was playing to extend its 23-match winning streak over conference foes. In a match that was back and forth throughout, it was only fitting that it would take extra points in the final set for the Purple Raiders to triumph with a 19-25, 25-21, 25-19, 22-25, 17-15 victory.

Mount Union led the opening set, 12-11, before the Berg took five straight points for a 16-12 lead. A kill by freshman Maya Brown (Tiffin/Tiffin Columbian) following a Purple Raider timeout cut the deficit to 16-13. That is the closest they would get, however, losing 25-19 on a kill by junior Marian Bevington.

Tied 8-8 in the second set, Mount Union won nine of the next 12 points to take a 17-11 lead. Heidelberg rallied to make it 22-20, but a service error on the ensuing serve made it 23-30 Purple Raiders. A kill by sophomore Taylor Webb (Geneva/Geneva) put the Raiders within a point of taking the set, but sophomore Amber Welfle countered with a kill of her own to keep the Berg alive. Heidelberg was unable to handle an attack by Webb and the ball sailed back over the net to junior Deanna Glass (medina/Median), who smashed the it onto the Heidelberg side of the court for her fourth kill of the set.

Outstanding serving from freshman Allison Insana (Cleveland/Villa Angela-Saint Joseph) helped turn an 8-5 deficit to an 11-8 lead for the Raiders in the third set. After going ahead 24-17, the Raiders served the ball into the net. A bad set by the Raiders was followed by a Bevingon kill to make it 24-19. A Purple Raider timeout helped alleviate some of Heidelberg's momentum and a kill by Brown ended the set to put the Raiders a step close to the OAC crown.

Looking to close out the match, senior Julie Radigan (Olmsted Falls/Olmsted Falls) and Webb each had a pair of kills to give the Purple Raiders a 7-5 lead to start the fourth set. Heidelberg won nine of the next twelve points to take a 14-10 lead, forcing a Mount Union timeout. A rally by the Raiders would close the gap to 19-17, but they could not get any closer. Playing for match point, Heidelberg had attack errors on back-to-back points before a kill by senior Jackie Reinhart to take the set, 25-22, and send the match to a fifth and final set to 15.

Heidelberg served first and took an early 2-1 lead, but that would be the final time the Purple Raiders would trail for the duration of the match. The Raiders were unable to gain more than a one-point advantage until an attack error by the Berg gave Mount Union an 8-6 edge.

Trailing 13-12, Reinhart served into the net. Following a Heidelberg timeout, freshman libero Lauren Mastroine (Orrville/Orrville) served for match point, but an attack error kept the Berg alive. Glass and freshman Nicole Snyder (Mentor/Lake Catholic) combined for what appeared to be a match-ending block, but a Heidelberg player was able to keep it alive and freshman Stephanie Romie placed the ball where no Purple Raider could get to it for the kill. A kill by Snyder gave Mount Union a 15-14, but an error on the ensuing serve knotted it up again.

The Raiders took the lead for the final time when Radigan set up Webb for a kill. Snyder's serve for match point was handled by the Berg and the ensuing attack by junior Jacki Street was dug by junior Kristen Gromes (Navarre/Fairless), who sent the ball back over the net. Senior Venessa Haase met the ball as it sailed over the net, but her attack was kept alive by Mastroine. The ball found its way to Webb, who tried to end the match, but Reinhart was there to dig the ball back over the net to Webb. Normally a power hitter, Webb was able to finesse the ball over the defense, where it fell to the floor for her fourth kill of the set, beginning the Purple Raider celebration.

Mount Union recorded a season-high 73 kills and had a .268 hitting percentage in the victory. Contributing double-digit kills for the Raiders were Webb, Snyder, and Brown. Webb surpassed her career-high with 23 kills, including four in the final set, to go with a .352 hitting percentage. Snyder also had four kills in the final set and ended the match with 18 kills. Brown had a team-best .417 hitting percentage and 13 kills. Radigan had a season-high 58 assists while adding five kills and nine digs.

The Purple Raider defense entered the match averaging a conference-best 2.35 blocks per set, but was only able to make five blocks against Heidelberg. As a result, the back line was kept busy and responded to the challenge. Mastroine tallied a career-high 36 digs, followed by Gromes with 20 digs. Insana (16) and Snyder (11) also had double-digit digs.

Bevington led Heidelberg with 15 kills. Welfle, Reinhart, and Haase contributed 11 kills each. Junior Rachel Ferguson had a team-best 29 assists while Romie and sophomore Alexa Frank both added 12 assists.

Freshman Tessa Benanzer led the Berg with 23 digs with Reinhart and Haase having 22 digs apiece. Heidelberg's defense made 11 blocks and was led by Welfle, who had seven total blocks.

Mount Union entered the weekend as the No. 6-ranked team in the Great Lakes Region. Three schools (Calvin, Wittenberg, Heidelberg) ranked ahead of them received the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for their respective conference. Four schools in the region, including two OAC schools (Ohio Northern, Otterbein), received at-large bids last season. Ending the season with wins over two schools ranked ahead of them in the region will likely put the Purple Raiders in consideration for one of 20 at-large spots this year. For more information on the NCAA Tournament selection show, visit http://www.ncaa.com/news/ncaa/article/2011-10-22/fall-championships-selections.

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