ST. PAUL, Minn. – The 19th-ranked UW-Stevens Point volleyball team saw its run in the NCAA Division III Championship tournament come to an unexpected end on Thursday evening as the favored Pointers fell 3-2 in a thrilling five set contest.
“I thought our players fought hard and played a good match,” said an emotional head coach Stacey White. “Things didn't go our way at the end, but overall we had some really great individual performances. I felt like the team came together and worked hard. It's definitely a disappointment, but that's sports.”
The Pointers looked shaky in the tournament's opening set, but used an 11-2 run midway through the opening set to take command. Northwestern mounted a comeback, using a 7-3 run late in the set to close to within three, 23-20, but the Pointers closed out the set, 25-20. Morgan Bartkowiak (Slinger, WI/Slinger) tallied five of the team's 11 kills in the first set.
“Morgan [Bartkowiak] has always been a very consistent player,” said White. “Things were clicking for her tonight. She brought it all together and you could really see her determination and wanting to help her team out. She executed our game plan really well. She ran the slide really well and we got a lot of points out of it tonight.”
Northwestern jumped in front of the second set, building a 10-6 lead thanks in part to a 9-2 run. UWSP closed the gap, cutting the deficit to one, 11-10, but another NWC run gave the Eagles an 18-13 lead. The Pointers again cut into the lead and pulled even at 20-20, but the Eagles pulled away to even the match at 1-1 with a 25-23 victory. Northwestern hit .351 in the second set, with just two attack errors.
The third set was all Pointers, as UWSP went on a 5-1 run early on to take open a 10-5 advantage. After a Northwestern timeout, the Pointers continued to build a lead and took a 13-7 advantage midway through the set. Northwestern closed the gap to 21-20, but Sarah Wildish (Menomonee Falls, WI/Menomonee Falls) and Allison Davis (Rochelle, IL/Rochelle Township) helped UWSP close out the set, 25-22. The Pointers hit .347 in the third set, improving their overall hitting percentage to .233.
With the opportunity to close out the Eagles in front of a rowdy group of fans who made the trip from the NWC campus just nine miles away, the Pointers could not capitalize, falling behind 20-15. The Pointers cut the deficit to one, but could never close out the Eagles, falling 25-20.
The Pointers, who had been 6-1 in five-set matches heading into the tournament, managed to overcome an early deficit to take an 11-9 lead, but the Eagles rallied to score the final points of the match and score the upset victory, 15-12.
“We didn't want it to end this way,” said White. But we can't let this match reflect back on our entire season and what this team has done.”
The win marks the first-ever NCAA tournament victory for the Eagles in any sport. Led by Kendra Korporal's 19 kills and Krista Stoltz's 55 assists, the Eagles advance to face St. Benedict, 3-0 winners over Dominican University (Ill.) in the day's first match.
Bartkowiak and Alexis Hartman (Lake Zurich, IL/Lake Zurich) led the Pointers (29-8) with 15 kills each while Christina Brinkman (Bristol, WI/Westosha Central) and Kati Rau (Dorchester, WI/Colby) each tallied 10. Hartman added 46 assists and Sarah Wildish (Menomonee Falls, WI/Menomonee Falls) had a team-best 23 digs.
“This [senior class] did all they could to change our program around,” said White. “They stayed focused, worked hard, and didn't quit even when the chips were stacked against them. I can't say enough about their leadership, their abilities, talents, and determination. I told our returners that the best 'thank you' they could give to the seniors was to continue what they started; to keep working to make the program better.”
COURTESY UW-STEVENS POINT