PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Wesleyan University volleyball team upset No. 2 Johnson & Wales in the Providence Regional Final on Sunday at the 2018 NCAA Division III Championships, 3-1. The Cardinals (20-5) advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history as they snapped the Wildcats' 33-match win streak. The lost is Johnson & Wales' (33-2) first since the season-opener.
Wesleyan earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and secured the No. 2 seed in the Providence regional hosted by the top-seeded Wildcats. Last season, the two teams—coached by husband and wife Ben (Wesleyan) and Nancy (Johnson & Wales) Somera—met in the second round of the NCAA Championships in Providence with the Wildcats claiming a 3-2 win.
In Sunday's rematch, the Cardinals' avenged the loss with an impressive performance in which they hit .366 as a team with 63 kills and only 10 errors. The 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year Nicole Hilton led the way with 20 kills, two errors, and a .514 attack clip en route to MVP honors of the Providence Regional. She was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Stasie Litinsky and Kaira Muraoka-Robertson.
- Johnson & Wales held a slight lead most of the first set early on, but Wesleyan rallied from a 15-13 deficit with a 5-0 run. The Wildcats got within one, 19-18, but the Cardinals rallied again with five of the next seven points to go ahead 24-20. Johnson & Wales scored three unanswered to get within one, but Hilton hit a powerful kill to give Wesleyan the 25-23 victory. The Cardinals hit .314 with 13 kills and two errors, while the Wildcats recorded 17 kills and six errors for a .224 attack clip.
- Wesleyan carried the momentum into the second frame and cruised to a commanding 25-14 win. The Cardinals jumped out to a 7-2 advantage and never looked back. They continued to increase their lead and went on a 6-2 run as an error by the Wildcats put Wesleyan up 17-9. Johnson & Wales cut the deficit to six, 17-11, but the Cardinals closed out the frame with an incredible 8-3 run for a decisive 11-point victory. Wesleyan was impressive in the second, hitting .567 as a team with 19 kills and only two errors. The Wildcats tallied 10 kills and two assists for a .286 attack clip.
- In the third, the Cardinals trailed for most of the set but rallied late. Trailing by as much as seven, 14-7, Wesleyan came back and took a 22-21 lead following another strong kill by Hilton. However, the Wildcats scored the next four points to take the set and cut the deficit to 2-1. Wesleyan hit .217 with 14 kills and four errors, and Johnson & Wales tallied 17 kills with five errors for a .250 hitting percentage.
- Wesleyan came out hot in the fourth set and pulled ahead 14-6 to force a Wildcats' timeout. The Cardinals continued to increase their lead down the stretch and pulled away, 20-10 following a service ace by Jenna Otaola. Wesleyan went on to score the final three points in a 25-12 rout to complete the upset. The Cardinals were very efficient once again and hit .441 with 17 kills and two errors. Johnson & Wales only had six kills with three errors and a match-low .083 attack mark.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Hilton was joined in double-figures by Litinsky and Mia Hogan with 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Muraoka-Robertson dished out 53 assists and registered 11 digs. Phia Bellizzi was excellent for the Cardinals once again as she led the defense with 26 digs, while Jenna Otaola added 15. Senior Madeleine Lundberg tallied nine kills and six digs, and Mia Jago recorded seven kills to round out the top offensive performers for the Cardinals.
- Hannah Dolan posted a team-high 14 kills with a .375 attack clip for the Wildcats, and Katie Leidhold added 10 kills. Brylee Frank dished out 42 assists and tallied 17 digs, and Elyssa Nicolas led the squad defensively with 20 digs.
- Wesleyan held Johnson & Wales to its two lowest set scores all season (14, 12). The Wildcats' previous low was 18.
- Wesleyan heads to Pittsburgh, Pa. on Thursday, Nov. 15 for NCAA Quarterfinal action and will face No. 6 Juniata at 8 p.m.