For the first time in Continental Volleyball Conference history, the championship match went to five sets and it did not disappoint as Juniata College avoided six match points and came from behind to defeat Eastern Mennonite University 3-2. Juniata won the match 25-22, 17-25, 15-25, 25-19, and 22-20 to pick up the program's third CVC Tournament title.
Juniata came into the championship match on a seven-match winning streak thanks to a red-hot offense. However, their offense was kept quiet in the early part of the match. Despite taking the opening set Juniata hit just .071 with 13 kills and 10 errors. The Eagles held off a late run by the Royals, who tallied five straight points near the end of the set before the Eagles were able to close out the frame.
The Royals who became the first team to defeat a host school and the top-seed in the CVC Tournament yesterday did not falter and responded immediately in the next set, jumping out to a 6-0 lead. Juniata was able to close the score to 12-9 but then Tim Callahan ended the Eagles run with a kill and solo block. Dan Lutz followed with back to back kills and the Royals were all of a sudden up 18-9 before cruising to the set victory.
The third set was deja vu as the Royals again opened up the set with a large lead, this time scoring the set's first seven points. Three of the first 10 points for the Royals in the set came on blocks as the Royals defense, which was key to their success this season, started to make itself known.
With the score 11-2 in favor of the Royals, Juniata senior Kyle Seeley started to assert himself. Seeley stopped the Royals fast start with a solo block to give the Eagles serve. Seeley would repeatedly be the Eagle that would stop the Royals on their third set runs, doing so three separate times in the set. However the Royals Josh Elmore would answer back twice on his own with kills and the Royals would hold their set lead and take a 2-1 edge in the match.
The fourth set started out back and forth with the score tied 4-4 early on when Juniata's Matt Vasinko put down a kill that started a three-point run and forced a Royals timeout. After Juniata opened up a four-point lead the Royals were able to close to within two points but it was Seeley again with back to back kills that built his team's lead up once again and going on to win the fourth and force a fifth set. The Royals defense, which had been blanking the Eagles attack, was unable to record any blocks in the set, allowing the Eagles offense to get back on track.
Both teams traded off points throughout the fifth set with four lead changes coming before the court switch. The Royals held serve with a 14-11 lead but Mahlon Bender put down back to back kills and Vasinko added a solo block to tie the score at 14-14 and give the fans extra volleyball. Four times the Royals held the lead with serve and four times the Eagles responded.
Juniata grabbed the lead at 18-17 after a block by Seeley and Michael Young, giving the Eagles momentum. With the score tied at 20-20, Juniata's Quinn Peterson put down a kill that put the Eagles one point away from a championship. On the next play, the two teams put together a long rally that saw the final point tallied on a bad set with Juniata claiming what would be the match-winning 22nd point.
After hitting .071, .042, and -.100 in the first three sets, Juniata's offense was finally able to break through and hit .231 and .280 in the final two sets. Juniata hit .106 in the match, their third lowest percentage in a match this season. Seeley led the Eagles with a season-high 18 kills, hitting .389 in the match, while also adding four total blocks. Vasinko finished with 12 kills and Bender chipped in with nine kills. Chris Heron finished with 17 digs. Juniata improves to 21-10 on the season and earns the conference automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Men's Volleyball Championship.
Eastern Mennonite, who had tallied 13 blocks in the first three sets managed just two more in the match while hitting .110 as a team. Josh Elmore finished with a team-high 12 kills while William Ragland added 11 kills and 13 digs. The Royals fall to 22-11 this season.