SELINSGROVE, Pa.- The Juniata women's volleyball team never trailed as they swept aside Susquehanna, 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 26-24), to capture their 39th consecutive conference championship Saturday afternoon in front of a progressively quieter O.W. Houts Gymnasium.
"We stayed really aggressive, handled the off-speed stuff a lot better and turned it into offense which made an enormous difference," said head coach Heather Pavlik after the match, discussing the difference between this weekend and last weekend. "We won the serve pass this week and a week ago I would have said it was more even or we were on the wrong side of that equation. I think staying aggressive with our serving really helped us."
The Eagles set the tone early, taking the first four points behind two kills from Morgan Edwards (Lancaster, Pa. / Penn Manor), a kill from Marie Gonsar (New Castle, Pa. / Shenango H.S.) and an ace from Aly Reardon (Downingtown, Pa. / Downingtown West HS). The River Hawks quickly pulled even at 4-4, but a 7-1 surge from Juniata made it 12-5 and the Eagles kept coming. Susquehanna rallied to get within six, 18-12 and JC called a timeout. Susquehanna took the next point before a kill from Victoria Taylor (Middletown, Del. / Delaware Military Academy) and a ball-handling error made it 20-13 before the River Hawks scored again. A block by Dejia Danhi (Ashburn, Va. / Stone Bridge) and Edwards, followed by two bad River Hawk sets and a block from Danhi and Marie Gonsar (New Castle, Pa. / Shenango H.S.) got the Eagles to set point. Three points later Emma Davis (East Berlin, Pa / Dover Area HS) slammed the ball into the ground for a kill to end set one, 25-16.
The second set was tighter, with the Eagles maintaining a narrow lead through the early going. A kill from Edwards and an attack error by the River Hawks made it 17-14. The teams traded points, before a service error by the River Hawks and block from Davis and Taylor made it 21-16. Susquehanna got back within three again, and again the Eagles answered with a kill from Taylor followed by another Susquehanna error. The teams traded points, with another error pushing Juniata to set point. Danhi placed a kill on the left side of the court where there was no defender to give the Eagles a two sets to zero lead.
The third set saw the River Hawks never trail by more than three, but they never managed to get ahead. Taylor tallied two straight kills late to make it 21-18. Susquehanna tallied three straight to get even, forcing a JC timeout. Juniata got a kill from Taylor and an ace from Moira Folan (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Oakland Catholic HS) made it 23-21. The hosts tallied a kill and Taylor's kill pushed Juniata to match point. Susquehanna pulled even, but that was it. A big swing from Edwards on the right gave JC match point again prior to Danhi and Gonsar combined for a championship-clinching block.
Taylor was named MVP after hitting .419 with 17 kills, five digs, and a block assist. Makenna Hallager (Glenolden, Pa. / Merion Mercy Academy) had 19 digs while Moira Folan (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Oakland Catholic HS) had 33 assists, two kills, an ace, and six digs. Gonsar contributed a bit of everything with 10 kills (.320), two assists, two digs, a solo block, and two block assists.
Juniata has won 13 Landmark Championships, defeating the River Hawks in 10 of them. Juniata has not dropped a set in the conference championship since 2015, and this is the first-ever conference championship the Eagles have won on the road.
With the win, the Eagles earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and will find out who their opponent is Monday.