WHITEWATER, Wis.—The Bethel University volleyball team solidified its spot in the Sweet 16 of the 2015 NCAA Division III Playoffs with a 3-1 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Friday evening. The Royals (24-9) triumph over the Blugolds (27-10) marks the first time in program history that BU has won two NCAA playoff matches and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Friday's match was exceptionally tough, but Bethel's power at the net enabled the Royals to win by scores of 23-25, 25-23, 25-18, and 25-20. BU tallied 85 points on 71 kills, three aces, and 11 blocks, opposed to UW-EC, who mustered 57 points on 47 kills, one ace, and nine blocks. Bethel's defense and passing was just as good—finishing with 68 assists and 90 digs, opposed to Eau-Claire's 45 assists and 74 digs.
Bethel's four-set thriller wasn't so thrilling in the beginning, as the Royals let a 21-19 lead in the opening set slip away when UW-Eau Claire finished the frame on a 6-2 run.
BU was in the driver's seat again in the second game when leading 23-20, but the Blugolds knotted the score at 23-23 late. Bethel's Head Coach Gretchen Hunt requested a critical timeout; however, which allowed the Royals to refocus and closeout the game with back-to-back kills by Tegan LaBerge and Nicole Deberry.
Bethel carried its momentum from the second set straight into the third and fourth sets, as the Royals were able to create breathing room in both frames. Trailing 9-10 in the third, BU went on an 11-2 run that enabled them to finish the game with a 25-18 victory. Then in the fourth with the game tied at 15-15, Kristin Stern recorded three kills and a block, which eventually gave Bethel a 20-15 advantage that they rode to a 25-20 win.
The Royals received sizeable contributions from several players throughout the evening affair. Leading the way was the trio of Tegan LaBerge, Kristin Stern, and Nicole Deberry. LaBerge and Stern each finished with 17 kills, while Nicole Deberry was right behind with 16. Stern hit .375 throughout the match with five block assists, while LaBerge was .243 with six block assists. Deberry finished the night with an attacking percentage of .481.
Also adding monumental efforts were sisters, Tina Hoppe and Carlee Hoppe. Tina posted 11 kills and 13 digs, while Carlee added nine kills, 23 digs, and six block assists.
Katie Lubben led all players with 42 assists—which in incredible, considering Bethel plays with two setters, opposed to UW-Eau Claire, who plays with one all the way around. Mikayla Morrow also contributed 20 assists throughout the match. Similar to Lubben, Kali Johnson led all players with 30 digs. Johnson sustained several rallies throughout the night due to her play in the back row.
The Royals will now play in the NCAA Region Championship match Saturday evening at 7 p.m. in the Russell Arena, which is located at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Bethel will play either Wartburg College or the University of Northwestern for a chance to advance to the Elite 8 next weekend in Grand Rapids, Michigan.