EMU’s volleyball women had a tall task on Sunday. To earn a spot in the ODAC Tournament, the Royals would need to knock off perennial power Randolph-Macon. On the road.
But Eastern Mennonite was up to the challenge from the opening serve, winning the first two sets and then holding off the Yellow Jackets for a thrilling five-set win. The Royals jumped into the No. 8 seed of this week’s ODAC Tournament with the win, earning their first trip to the conference tourney in three seasons.
The Royals also claimed their first win over Randolph-Macon in the rally-scoring era. They last beat the Yellow Jackets in 1999, a 3-0 sweep in Harrisonburg.
EMU (4-8/4-7 ODAC) gets a tall task in the postseason as well, heading to No. 1 seed Washington and Lee on Wednesday. The Generals swept the women in their regular season meeting one week ago in Harrisonburg, after winning a marathon first set, 34-32. Game time on Wednesday is 7 p.m.
The semifinals and championship matches will be on Saturday at the highest remaining seed.
Playing in just their second ODAC Tournament since 2007, EMU has displayed the potential to make a Cinderella run, playing W&L tight during the regular season while upsetting the conference’s other powerhouse. Randolph-Macon and Washington and Lee have combined to win 18 of the last 19 ODAC Championships. One of the two teams have played in the title match every year since 1994, coincidentally the last time EMU won an ODAC Championship.
In Sunday’s contest in Ashland, the Royals simply out-hit Randolph-Macon. They scored the first three points in the opener and then got three kills from Paris Hutchinson (Waynesboro, Va./Wilson Memorial) during a 5-0 run to open up a 17-11 margin. R-MC snuck back within two points before the women finished it off with three straight points for a 25-19 win. It was the first set EMU had taken from Randolph-Macon since the 2013 season.
The Yellow Jackets scored the first four of the second set before EMU recovered to a 7-7 tie. The teams traded short bursts from there until the Royals took over with a 5-0 run. Senior Hannah Johnson (Staunton, Va./Wilson Memorial) had four kills during the key run. R-MC eventually tied the score, the women kept their momentum and pushed to a 25-20 win.
The teams traded runs in the third before Randolph-Macon seized control. The home team ended on an 8-0, streaking to a 25-14 decision.
That momentum carried into the fourth where the Yellow Jackets scored the first five points and carried to a 10-4 lead. EMU would get no closer than three as R-MC forced a fifth set, 25-17.
Fighting the temptation to tighten up, the Royals went back to the basics in the deciding fifth set, starting with a kill from Johnson. Middle hitter Heather Phelps (Moseley, Va./Cosby) got into the attack with a pair of kills, pushing the lead to 6-3. After a point from R-MC, the women took over with a decisive 7-0 run. Johnson landed back-to-back kills to wrap up the streak to open a 13-4 lead. The Yellow Jackets scored twice, but EMU had the poise to stay strong to a 15-7 win.
The Royals out-hit R-MC, .181 to .143. As a team, the women hit .435 in the first set and .368 in the fifth.
Johnson had the best all-around effort of her senior season, landing 13 kills to go with 20 digs and two blocks. The kills were one off her season high, and her .423 kills percentage was easily the best of the year.
Hutchinson led all players with 15 kills, and the freshman set career highs with 17 digs, six blocks and three service aces. Phelps landed 11 kills, also a career high, to go with three blocks.
Andrea Troyer (Harrisonburg, Va./Broadway) added a huge defensive net presence with six block assists, tying a career high. Abby Kaufman (Maplewood, Mo./Maplewood Richmond Heights) picked up 13 digs, while Sarah East (Washington, Va./Rappahannock County) had eight kills and ten digs.
Senior Tori Wigley (Elkton, Va./East Rockingham) did a great job running the offense, hoisting 44 set assists.
Sydney Koch had 14 kills and five blocks, while Grace Parker had 13 kills and five blocks.