BARBOURVILLE, Ky. – With her 12th kill of the night, Marissa Elam (JR/Muncie, Ind.) sealed the 3-2 victory and sent Union College to the final site of the NAIA Volleyball National Championship Tournament.
Union completed an impressive comeback to hand 20th-ranked Cornerstone (Mich.) a 25-20, 11-25 23-25, 25-19, 15-8 defeat in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
"I told the team it would be a war tonight, and we would win some battles and they would win some too," said Union coach Jeremy Wise. "I was sure it would go down to the wire in a fifth set."
With the win, Union advances to the final site in Sioux City, Iowa, where it will join the other 11 opening round winners as well as the 19 automatic qualifiers and host Morningside (Iowa). The tournament resumes on Nov. 29 with pool play and concludes with the title match on Dec. 3.
This marks the first time in five trips to the national tournament Union has picked up the win. The Bulldogs are now 1-4 all time in NAIA Championship play. Cornerstone is now 1-4 in the national tournament.
Union (33-9 overall) came out matching Cornerstone blow for blow in the opening frame. After falling behind 14-11, Union rallied to even the match at 15-all. The teams traded points for the next several serves before the Bulldogs closed out the set on a 6-1 run for the 25-19 decision.
Cornerstone turned things around in the second set, posting a dominating 25-11 win.
The Bulldogs looked as if they had regained their composure in the third frame as they owned a 23-18 advantage late. However, the Golden Eagles reeled off the final seven points in the set to take the 25-23 decision for a 2-1 match lead. Kendra Zwart delivered three of her match-high 18 kills during the decisive rally.
"We gave up too many unforced errors in the second set, and I feel the same things hurt us late in the third set," said Wise. "Fortunately, we were able to figure out a few things in the fourth set and got back to executing and working smart."
Following a lot of back-and-forth play to begin the set, Union used a 10-4 surge to open up a 19-14 lead. Cornerstone cut the margin down to three, but Rachel Andrews (JR/Louisville, Ky. ) and Elle Barnett (JR/Lexington, Ky.) delivered kills as Union registered the final three points to claim the 25-19 set win, evening the match at 2-all.
The Bulldogs' hot play continued in the fifth frame as they raced out to a 9-3 lead. Elam had three kills in the opening surge as was helped out by kills from Jenna Nelson (JR/Florence, Ky. ) and Andrews. Back-to-back attack errors by Union allowed Cornerstone to pull within 10-6, but a service error capped a 4-1 spurt for the home team to up the lead to 14-7.
A kill by Kenzie Englesma kept the Golden Eagles' hopes alive, but Elam quickly dashed them with a kill to end the set, giving the Bulldogs the 15-8 set victory and 3-2 match win.
"After winning the fourth set, we just had to keep the team fired up and knew the rest should go our way as the team was getting dialed in," Wise said. "I am incredible proud of this team and how they have continued to improve and get stronger as the year has wore on."
This was the first time in 11 five-set matches Cornerstone did not come up victorious. The Golden Eagles end the season at 32-9 overall.
Union is now 5-3 in five-set matches.
Like Elam, Jergesen finished with 12 kills, while Nelson and Andrews followed with 11 and 10, respectively. Carson Gray (SO/Alexandria, Ky.) turned in a double-double with 26 assists and 17 digs, while Ivana Kazic (SR/Belgrade, Serbia) notched 25 helpers. Paulina Hileman (JR/Johnstown, Colo.) finished with 21 digs with Maggie McGraw (SO/Elkhorn, Wis.) helping out with 12 to go with three service aces.
The Bulldogs recorded 10 total team blocks with Jergesen and Andrews leading the way with seven and six blocks, respectively.
For Cornerstone, Heather Green and Ellie Van Laar logged 12 and 11 kills, respectively, and Hope Leppink had 38 assists and 10 digs.
The final site pairings and bracket will be released on Sunday.