V-ball takes PL title yet again
Sunday's Patriot League Volleyball championship in Bender Arena had all the trappings of a typical match-up between AU and Bucknell. There were multiple lead changes, an aggressive Bucknell defense to counter AU's powerful hitting, and a yellow card given to the Bisons animated coach, Cindy Opalski.
And, characteristic of the previous outings between the teams, the Eagles came out on top, proving to be too strong for the Bison.
AU won its third consecutive PL Volleyball title and NCAA berth in a 3-0 decision, by scores of 30-27, 30-25 and 30-14. The Bison (16-13, 11-3 PL) played the Eagles (21-9, 14-0) as tightly as they could before AU blew the roof off Bender match in the final game.
"Bucknell came out and hit .273 the first game, which is way above their average, so they came here to play today," AU head coach Barry Goldberg said. "We were just a little better in the first couple games. Once we started to calm down a little bit, they started to [make some errors]. It was a battle."
AU's Karla Kucerkova made sure the final PL match of her career wasn't a disappointment. She had 26 kills, 11 digs and hit .512, which was good enough to be named Tournament MVP, an honor she also received in 2001.
Kucerkova and the Eagles had to work to earn their trophies. Bucknell played the first two games on fire. Bison Treean Trapasso and Jessica Bissett frustrated the Eagles with four team blocks in the opening round.
The strength of Bucknell's front row kept AU's hitters quiet early as Bucknell climbed to a 9-5 advantage. The teams traded leads until AU led 23-20, but the Bison stuck around. With the score knotted at 27-27, AU pumped out two kills and an ace to win the game 30-27.
AU held off Bucknell in a tight second game and asserted itself for good in the third with an 18-10 lead that grew to a blowout.
Bucknell hung close to AU offensively, just a fraction below the Eagles with a .273 and .286 hitting percentage in the first two games. The tables turned in the last round when AU hit .457 to Bucknell's .030 hitting percentage.
"Bucknell played hard," Goldberg said. "They had a great year, but we were just a little bit more powerful hitting the ball. I thought that was the big difference in the match."
AU now waits to learn its placement in the program's fifth NCAA tournament appearance. Brackets will be announced Nov. 30 at 8 p.m., and play begins Dec. 4. The Eagles have yet to win a match in the tournament, although they won their first game in the tournament in last year's 3-1 loss to South Carolina. But no matter what happens to the team in December, Goldberg said nothing can take away from the legacy of Kucerkova.
"This girl's going out as a champ," he said. "It's just been an incredible career."
He then pointed to basketball great Kermit Washington's No. 24 jersey hanging in Bender's rafters.
"We'll see if we can get one of those for her," he said.