BLOOMINGTON, IL – The Amherst College volleyball team took center court at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University this afternoon in the national quarterfinals against Juniata College. The 24th-ranked Lord Jeffs entered the match with a 30-4 record, while the 2nd-ranked Eagles boasted a 36-4 mark and returned to the Championships to defend their 2006 national title. While Amherst left everything on the floor, the Jeffs were unable to escape a 3-0 defeat.
In game one, Juniata jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead on a kill from Amber Thomas before an Eagle block and a pair of ball-handling errors. Amherst responded with some tough defense and kills from senior tri-captain Jaclyn DeMais (Hillsdale, NJ) and junior Sara Heller (La Canada, CA) to fight back to 4-3.
The Eagles were about to swell their lead back to seven at 11-4 on a pair of near misses from Amherst hitters. The Lord Jeffs were unable to slow the Juniata attack and found themselves trailing 14-4 before DeMais put home her third kill of the match for Amherst's fifth point.
Juniata's Jessica Ritchey picked up a pair of consecutive service aces to force Amherst head coach Sue Everden to use her second timeout. After a net violation on the Jeffs, first-year Jackie Berkley (Fullerton, CA) picked up her first kill of the day to bring Amherst to a 19-6 deficit.
After first-year Laura Hyman (Glencoe, IL) single handedly gave Amherst its eighth point of the match with an attack and then a kill, Juniata ran off another four points to take the opener, 30-8.
Amherst was able to hang with the defending champions during the second game, trailing by just two points at 12-10. When DeMais dropped back for her turn in the rotation at serving, classmate and fellow tri-captain Whitney Kouvaris (Jacksonville, FL) picked up the slack. The Jeffs rolled off six straight points, taking their first meaningful lead at 16-14.Amherst started the second game on a much better note with a pair of kills from DeMais for a 2-1 lead. Just when it seemed as though the Lord Jeffs might put together a trademark scoring run, the Eagles responded with four straight points for a 5-2 lead.
Juniata regained the lead in the second game at 20-17 and pushed forward without looking back. After a seven-point run for the Eagles, Amherst responded with a 4-1 scoring run to get back in the game at 24-21. DeMais, the 2007 NESCAC Player of the Year, tried to pick the Jeffs up numerous times, but the Eagle front line refused to let her get an uncontested attack, repeatedly blocking or deflecting her attempts.
Juniata rolled off three of the final four points in game two to take a 2-0 advantage. Suddenly, Amherst was looking at a hole that it hadn't seen all season, and was one game away from the season being cut short.
The Lord Jeffs came out for game three like a team that had nothing to lose and took their largest lead of the day early at 8-4. Juniata closed the gap to two points at 9-7 on what looked to be the point of the match. In a long rally, DeMais kept the point going with a very quick reaction before an excellent dig from Heller.
With Amherst trailing 21-16, Kouvaris neatly tucked away a loose ball at the net before junior Claire Holton-Basaldua (San Rafael, CA) picked up her second kill of the day to cut the lead to three.Juniata grabbed the lead back at 11-10 with Erin Albert serving for three straight scores. Amherst was robbed of an equalizer at 14-14 when the down umpire ruled that Jackie Berkley touched the net on a would-be kill. The violation gave the Eagles a 15-13 edge, a lead they would swell to four points at 17-13.
That three-point deficit was as close as Amherst would get in the third game, as the Eagles coasted to another convincing win, 30-21. Juniata advances to face the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Friday's national semifinal match and will look to win its third national title since 2004.
When the final ball hit the court, Amherst finished the season with a 30-5 mark, tying the school record for wins. Today's match marked the end of the careers for senior tri-captains DeMais, Kouvaris and Julie Berkley (Fullerton, CA). The trio helped Amherst reach new heights this season, and will forever be remembered as one of the best classes in school history.