TIFFIN – For just the second time in program history, the Heidelberg University volleyball team is the OAC Tournament champions. The Student Princes put together a spirited performance in front of a packed Seiberling Gymnasium to knock off the 25th-ranked Polar Bears of Ohio Northern in five sets on Saturday. After taking a commanding lead early in the 5th set, the Berg had to hold on and pull away late to finish the match before the court was stormed in celebration by the Heidelberg faithful.
As is usual in key situations, Sarah Parker was called upon consistently towards the end of the match. The junior came through in a big way with a team-high 20 kills with an attack percentage of .340 in the victory.
As the game wore on, the defense of Rachel Raimondo (23 digs), Megan Mills (20 digs), and Ellen Fay (8 digs) made the difference as the Student Princes were able to withstand rallies by the Polar Bears.
Karlie DiRuzza did a little bit of everything for Heidelberg in the match, recording 52 assists while also picking up 12 digs and three kills. Those assists put her season total at 1,258, which ranks as the sixth-most in a single season in Heidelberg history.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Heidelberg came out of the gate strong and took a 12-6 lead, but ONU answered in a big way. The Polar Bears fought all the way back and even pulled away as they took the first set 25-18.
In the second set, the two sides battled back-and forth early before the Student Princes were able to open up a slim 17-14 edge. ONU came back and was able to tie things up at 19, making it a close set late. After the Polar Bears scored a point to make it a 24-23 Berg lead, a kill by Jamie Kluding finished off the set to tie up the match.
The Student Princes were unable to carry that momentum into the third set, as Ohio Northern jumped out to a 7-3 lead early. Heidelberg was able to slowly chip away at that as the set wore on and took their first lead at 19-18 after a kill by Parker. The Berg was able to hold onto that lead and pull away late for the 25-21 set win.
The Polar Bears were able to impose their will early in the fourth set yet again as they took a big 16-8 edge. Heidelberg was able to put together a few small runs late in the set, but it was not enough as ONU forced a fifth and deciding set with a 25-19 fourth set victory.
With everything on the line in the fifth set, Heidelberg opened in a big way. The Student Princes scored the set's first five points, which included three kills by Parker. The Student Princes clung to that lead as the set wore on, but Ohio Northern was able to rally back and pull within one at 13-12. With Heidleberg holding to a 14-13 lead, Mariah Sullivan ended the match with a kill, giving the Berg the tournament title.
Head coach Jason Miller on the win and his team: "I've coached a lot of great teams, and I'm not saying that this team is better than those, but this team just has something different. This is probably the most unselfish group of kids that I've ever coached. Inn tight games when we get into that situation, their chemistry is such a positive thing for us and the just believe and play hard for each other. That makes a huge difference in close games."
Miller on Parker's play late in the match: "I'm pretty sure Northern knew where we were going, but for us she's been that kid who has gotten it done for us in close matches and come up big for us in big matches, so that's where we were going. I looked at her and said 'get it done'."
Miller on the impact of the crowd: "I can't say enough about the last two nights, Thursday and today. We have such great fans and such great support from the students, the parents, and from the community...it's nice to be relevant again. When you get a group like that, that's loud...the kids respond and feed off of it and we played some of our best volleyball because of it."
Miller on adjusting to ONU's blocking: "Northern blocked phenomenally. They had 12 blocks and slowed our attack down because of it. We just kept swinging and our off-speed stuff wasn't working and we weren't able to make adjustments. In a timeout, I told the girls to just keep attacking and do a better job of covering, and they did just that."
Miller on Ellen Fay's play on defense: "Ellen has really come into her own at the end of the season and the end of her career. She's been a role player for us for the last three years and has really stepped up and has been very consistent in serve receive and is playing some of the best defense I've seen her play. What a great time as a senior to step up and play some of her best volleyball."
Heidelberg has earned the OAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which will begin next week. This will be the Berg's 7th trip to the NCAA Regionals in program history and first since 2012. They will learn their opponent and tournament site on Monday during the NCAA selection show at 11:00 a.m.