UU advances to MEC volleyball semifinals

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Urbana University volleyball earned its first postseason victory as an NCAA Division II member, as the fifth-seeded Blue Knights swept No. 4 Fairmont State 3-0 in Thursday’s MEC Quarterfinal match, hosted by Wheeling Jesuit University.

UU trailed in every set, but won with scores of 25-14, 27-25, 25-19, advancing to today’s semifinal match against the winner of No. 1 Wheeling Jesuit/No. 8 West Virginia Wesleyan. First serve will take place at 7:30 p.m. at WJU’s McDonough Center.

“I think it was a great opportunity for these seniors and this group to get a team win,” said UU head coach Tim Balice. “That’s what we needed to beat a Fairmont squad like that, and I’m really impressed with our effort and attention to detail. One of the biggest things we talked about in our pregame was that we had to go on runs and limit theirs, and it was going to start from the service line. We spent this whole week trying to condition them to be ready for that and they executed.”

All-MEC first teamer Katlynn Dunlap led a balanced UU attack with a double-double, producing 14 kills and 18 digs. Cecily Clark had eight kills while Madison Davis (7) and Emilee Skerbetz (6) were other key contributors. Maia Dunlap led the way defensively with 21 digs while Courtney Niesen reached double figures with 10 digs. Freshmen setters Anna Davis and Deandra Atwood combined for 36 assists and each slipped in a pair of kills.

The Blue Knights out-hit the Falcons .265 to .114 as UU posted a 57-percent mark on sideout. UU recorded nine aces compared to only two by the Falcons.

FSU’s Mackenzie Harrison led the Falcons with 16 kills and 13 digs. The Falcons close the season with an overall record of 21-11.

In the opening set, UU trailed 9-6 early but used a key 7-0 run to go ahead 13-9. Brianna Burkhalter ignited the run with an ace and capped the spurt with another service point. UU eventually built a 20-13 advantage off three points during Maia Dunlap serves and then claimed five of the next six points.

The second frame proved to be the closest of the match. With the score tied 5-5, FSU raced out to a 10-5 lead and then stayed out in front with a 17-13 margin. However, UU persevered and a Cecily Clark kill keyed a comeback that saw UU take a 19-18 lead off a Madison Davis ace.

Not to be out-done, FSU kept chipping and the two squads traded points until the Falcons ultimately had the chance for set point at 24-23. But, UU freshman Courtney Niesen stepped up and pounded her only kill of the match to keep UU in it, off an assist from Katlynn Dunlap. Each team followed with a kill, and then Katlynn put down a kill and a Falcon error sealed the set.

In the final set, UU trailed early again 6-4 but back-to-back Madison Davis kills sparked a 7-0 UU run. Two aces from K. Dunlap and kills from Atwood and C. Clark forced a FSU timeout with UU leading 11-6. UU stayed in front the rest of the way and led by as many as seven when a Skerbetz kill put the Blue Knights up, 18-11.

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