With the win, Volleyball secures guaranteed berth in the NCAA tournament
The Capital Athletic Conference volleyball championship match was hosted by #1 seed Christopher Newport University as they hosted #2 seed, the University of Mary Washington. With an automatic spot in the NCAA post season tournament on the line, a victory would secure either teams spot.
This matchup was their third meeting this season and marked their fourth consecutive tie facing off in the conference championship match. History was on the side of the Captains, having won both bouts this year as well as the previous two championship matches.
But the Eagles would not lie down for Christopher Newport just because of some history. They were determined to be in control of their own fate, and right off the bat, Mary Washington came out strong, picking up three quick points and only giving one away to Christopher Newport.
The Captains answered the challenge and rattled off four in a row which saw #2 Kayleigh Regan-Smith fire an ace to end the run. After a response from Mary Washington which tacked another point on the board, #14 Katie Crofford unleashed two more kills to boost the lead up to four.
Then the Eagles began to find their rhythm in the contest. Mary Washington unleashed a flurry of offense picking up seven of the following nine points to regain the lead. After a pair of Captains points, the Eagles defense found the lead once more.
From there, Mary Washington would never relinquish the lead despite the efforts of #20 Katie Piper and go on to close out the set 25-21.
The visiting fans cheered on their side to an important victory in the first set as they sought to watch the dethroning of the defending conference champions.
In the second set, both teams duked it out, going blow for blow as each side would attempt to gain an edge over their opponents.
The Eagles attack was denied multiple times by the combined efforts of Piper, #9 Mackenzie Wright and #10 Megan O’Hara, but the front row was unable to find an advantage.
Service errors plagued both sides, totaling six in the second set alone. Piper grabbed three more kills on the road to a two point lead. That would quickly dissolve, however, as the Eagles defense stepped up both literally and figuratively, shutting down a couple of attacks that the Captains had orchestrated.
Both teams still fighting for superiority, the Eagles tied the match up at 19 points each. There the Captains found the necessary points they needed to even out the set total at one each.
A block from both Piper and Wright was bookended by kills from Piper. Then Wright teamed up with Crofford who closed out the set off with an emphatic kill via a set by Regan-Smith.
The Captains kept the momentum going in the third set but would shift into an even higher gear as they led 9-7. Three blocks on the defensive side of things helped the defending champions pull ahead by six more points.
One of those blocks would come from Piper and #15 Riley Garrison who would find success again later in the set with another key block.
Garrison would also flip the script and snag some kills on offense, her third of the set would cap off the six point run the Captains made.
Liking the lead they had at one point, Mary Washington tried to find it once more going on a small 4-1 run, but that would not be enough as the Captains would hold onto the lead.
The single point that Christopher Newport side would score in those five points would be on a service error, but the Eagles would only come as close as six points and be unable to catch the Captains.
The set closed with another block from Piper and Garrison which broke the deadlock and set the Captains just one set away from an automatic bid into the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
Mary Washington was fighting to keep their season alive as the fourth frame got underway. After posting a strong block to turn away an attack from Wright, the Eagles would find themselves just a couple points ahead.
Although, there was blood in the water, and the Captains could smell it.
Garrison started to close the deficit with a kill before an attacking error from the Eagles knotted things up at five.
The serve would bounce back and forth between the two teams for the next five points before Mary Washington capitalized on a service error and then doubled down with another big block.
The Captains would respond but would be forced to settle with the points being split once again over the next six points.
Down by three points, Christopher Newport could begin to sense that the set could slip away and decided to make a move to close the gap and put themselves in front. Playing perfect defense forced three attacking errors out of the Eagles as they tried to crack the Captains defense, but they came up dry.
Then it was Mary Washington’s turn to play catch up as once more, the serve swapped sides after every rally for eight consecutive points.
Wright would find her first kill, since being turned away earlier in the set, to push the Captains lead before O’Hara powered another kill down and added another point on the scoreboard.
Then, with the gap between the two top teams in the conference at three, and three points also standing between Christopher Newport and their third consecutive conference title, Mary Washington began to claw their way back into the set and grabbed the next two points. Those two points would not be enough to deter the Captains as their front row rained down three kills from three different attackers onto their opponents to close out the set and secure the victory.
Had the Eagles been able to complete the comeback, this could have marked the first time since 2006 when Christopher Newport had not been in the NCAA volleyball tournament, which coincidentally was also the year that Head Coach Lindsay Birch, then Sheppard, took her husband’s last name.
Following the selection show which took place on Nov. 11, the Captains Volleyball squad will be back in action on Friday, Nov. 15, when they face Stevenson in the NCAA tournament regional quarterfinals.
~Austin Urch, Staff Writer~