Nov. 4, 2007
Aston, Pa. - In the Championship match of the 2007 Pennsylvania Athletic Conference Volleyball Tournament the No. 2 Neumann Knights defeated 10-time defending champion No. 1 Eastern University, 3-1, to advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in program history.
"I am so proud of this team," stated Head Coach Deana Jespersen after the game. "They never let up, not once, even when we lost Meghan Wilson, who played her heart out, the whole team stepped up. Cathleen Hazewski really showed us what it means to be a part of a championship team and she was a huge part of this win tonight. Each and every one of these women worked as hard as they could to get this win. I could not have asked for anything more. This is a true testament of their character and skill. I am so excited for everyone involved in this program."
Neumann entered Eastern's (17-15) arena Saturday evening with the hopes of earning its first victory over the Eagles and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since joining the conference in 1992. The mission was accomplished in 4 games as the Knights defeated their hosts 30-25, 28-30, 30-24 and 36-34. With the win, Neumann (23-10) will advance to the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday, November 7. The place and time will be announced Sunday evening.
Neumann exploded in game one taking a 24-17 lead over the Eagles. Six Knight errors led to a 27-23 game but the Knights regrouped behind the offensive spark of Ashley Mathis who had two kills including match point, 29-25. In the end, Neumann served Eastern its first loss against a conference opponent this season, after a hitting error by Eastern gave Neumann the game 30-25.
Eastern opened game two on a 6-2 run but Neumann tied the game, tallying four points to make it 6-all. The two teams went point-for-point before Eastern went on a four-point run to take the lead, and Head Coach Deana Jespersen called a timeout to refocus her team. After the break Eastern continued to maintain the lead but the Knights did not make it easy for the defending champions. Neumann tied the game at 21-21 and battled point-for-point until Eastern pulled away 29-26. With the match on the line, Neumann's Ashley Mathis and Julia Tarloski stepped up with two back-to-back kills that pulled the Knights within one. However, a soft, over the net pass by Eastern's Carrie Gillen gave the Eagles the win, 30-28.
Neumann was back on track in game three as the Knights came out on a 4-0 run. Eastern came within two (5-3), but the Knights would not relinquish their early lead. After an exchange of runs, Eastern came within two points, bringing the score to 14-12. The Knights did not give in to the pressure, going on a 3-point run behind a block assist by Emilee Gruse and Lindsay Buckland, and a kill by Rachael Sokolovich. Eastern answered with a run of its own, coming within two of the Knights, 26-24, but Neumann proved they would not go quietly. The Knights defensive line remained stable behind the efforts of freshman defensive specialist Cathleen Hazewski who came in to relieve team leader Meghan Wilson who suffered an injury late in game two. Hazewski's defensive efforts allowed the Knights offense to get the job done in game three. Ashley Mathis hit down the Knights 27th point after Kristen Verone made a perfect set, one of many on the night, and Gruse served the Knights 28th point with an ace. Mathis continued her strong presence on the court with a hard kill giving the Knights game point. An attack error on the Eagles gave the Knights game three 30-24 and a 2-1 game lead.
"We were pumped for this game tonight," stated senior Alyssa Brigg. "We were really focused and finally started to believe in ourselves and what we have already accomplished this season. During the break we were reminded that Eastern was just a name and that we can beat them if we all work together. It really came down to the excellent coaching that we received from Deana Jespersen and Matt Verlinghieri and the support we got from Chuck Sack prior to the game."
Neumann opened game four trailing 5-0 and Eastern continued to maintain the lead 7-5. Neumann fought back, tying the score 9-9 and then took a 12-9 lead over Eastern off 2-service aces from Alyssa Brigg and a kill from Rachael Sokolovich. The game went back-and- forth for the next 10-points and continued to be a battle for the best of the best. With fans on the edge of their seats the game went into extra points. The Knights received well placed kills from Buckland, Tarloski and Mathis who led the Knights to a 36-34 victory and the team's first PAC Volleyball Championship.
After the game, Neumann freshman Cathleen Hazewski was named the tournament M.V.P. "I was so upset when Meghan went down," stated Hazewski. "When Coach Jespersen called my name I was so nervous, but knew that I needed to step up, not only for my own self confidence but for Meghan and the rest of the team as well. Meghan has taught me so much this season and I wanted to make her proud. I also knew I was not alone out there. I knew I had a ton of support in front of me. I knew that no one on this team was going to let me down and I did not want to let any of them down. This was truly a team effort and I am so proud and honored to be a part of its success."
The win marks the 1st Championship win for Neumann College dating back to 1992 and the first win over Eastern University since 1999.
The NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Tournament begins this Thursday, Nov. 8 and ends with the championships in Bloomington, Illinois on Nov. 16-17. The tournament field will be announced the evening of Sunday, Nov. 4.
Neumann College Athletics Women's Volleyball