Athenas Win! Next up, Meeting with Wittenberg for Title

Athenas Win! Next up, Meeting with Wittenberg for Title

Press Conference

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The Athenas defeated the Ithaca Bombers 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18) in the National Semifinals to advance to Saturday's National Championship Final against the Wittenberg Tigers. Margaux Arntson (CMC) floored 13 kills to lead the Athenas' offense, while four different Athenas collected multiple kills in the victory.

It was a back-and-forth battle all match long, with the first two sets decided by two points each. A fist set victory, opened the match in uncharacteristic fashion for CMS in the NCAA Tournament. The Bombers responded with a late comeback in the second set to even the match at 1-1.

Trailing 18-14 late in an important third set, CMS rattled off their largest run of the match to that point with an 11-3 burst to take the set 25-21 and claim a 2-1 advantage in the match. Just as the sets before it, the fourth set was closely contested early. The Bombers held a slim 15-14 lead midway through the game, but CMS used another 11-3 run to close out the set and the match. The Athenas took the fourth set 25-18 and the match 3-1 to advance to their first National Championship match in program history.

The Wittenberg Tigers disposed of host Calvin in straight sets on Friday night, and will square off with the Athenas for the National Title on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. ET/4:00 p.m. PT.

"We've been in a lot of battles thus far, so nothing really feels that new or unachievable," said sophomore Isabelle Taylor (CMC) after the her 12-kill performance on Friday. "The contagious energy that we bring on the floor has really helped us push forward this season."

That energy has helped push the Athenas to their deepest run in the NCAA Tournament in program history. Despite that deep run, the Athenas have held a trend of starting matches off slowly in the 2017 National Tournament. On Friday, the Athenas set a slightly different tone, topping the Bombers 25-23 in the opening set. It was a closely contested set throughout, but the Athenas used a quick 4-0 run to take a 13-9 lead midway through the set.

Kills from Arntson, Crystal Anderson (CMC), and Shelbi Stein (CMC) along with a service ace from Clara Madsen (CMC) fueled the stretch for CMS. The Bombers did not go down quietly, three-straight kills from Ithaca cut the lead to one at 16-15. With the Athenas going first, CMS and Ithaca traded 4-1 runs. Following an attacking error from CMS, the Athenas clung to a 21-20 lead.

The pressure for CMS eased slightly when the Athenas scored three-straight points thanks to kills from Melanie Moore (CMC) and Anderson sandwiched around an Ithaca error. Once again the Bombers mirrored CMS with three-straight points of their own, but it was too little too late, as Stein ended the set at 25-23 with her fourth kills of the match.

After hitting an impressive .471 in the opening set, the Athenas swung at just a .071 clip in the second set and dropped the game 25-23. Just like the first set, the Bombers and Athenas went point-for-point for a majority of the set. Trailing 20-19, the Athenas rattled off four-straight points with Isabelle Taylor connecting for two kills and Melanie Moore picking up a service ace to take a 23-20 lead. Ithaca showed the resolve that helped them advance to the Semifinals and won the next four points to take the set in dramatic fashion 25-23 and even the match at 1-1.

The Athenas fell behind early in the third set, but regrouped with a 5-1 run to take a 9-8 lead. The small lead did not last long. Ithaca responded with a 10-5 run to reclaim the lad at 18-14. A kill from Stein halted the Bombers' run and started a streak of six-straight points for the Athenas.

Those six-straight points were part of a larger, 11-3 run for the Athenas that closed out the set (25-21) and put CMS in the driver's seat with a 2-1 advantage in the match.

For the majority of the fourth set, neither team led by more than two points. That all changed with the Bombers holding a 15-14 at the media timeout, midway through the game. Coming out of the timeout, Taylor connected on a pass from Clara Madsen for a kill to tie the match. After two kills from Arntson and an ace from Phoebe Madsen, the Athenas held an 18-15 lead.

Ithaca closed the gap to one at 18-16 and 19-17, but just as they did in the third set, the Athenas finished the set on an 11-3 run to claim the game 25-18 and the match 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18).

Crystal Anderson put together one of the strongest performances for the Athenas on Friday night with 12 kills and a .417 hitting percentage, but playing under the bright lights of a National Semifinal seemed right at home for the senior. "It may seem like it is a big stage with a bunch of people watching, but for us, it's just us six on the court," said Anderson after the Semifinal victory. "We do it for each other and the love of the game."

As mentioned, the Athenas are one of only two teams still standing. The Athenas and No. 3 Wittenberg Tigers will meet in the National Championship tomorrow night. The Tigers are no stranger to the National Final. Wittenberg is making their third appearance in the National Championship match since 2011 and already have one title to their name (2011).

That Athenas are making their first Championship Final appearance in program history.

"There's a lot of emotion," said head coach Kurt Vlasich when asked about tomorrow's title bout. "I've never played on the final day of the season. It's really exciting and I'm honored to be with these girls in this situation, I'm proud of them and nobody knows how tough it's been. We've got a great record and a bunch of wins in a row, but we've had to work for that."

"As a coach, I get to do this again and again and again, but you see the freshman walk into the locker room for the first time and then you see the seniors walk out of the locker room for the last time. It's definitely something as a coach that gives you chills."

The Athenas will look to send the seniors off on a high-note. The National Championship gets underway Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. ET/4:00 p.m. PT.