GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - When asked if his team is playing its best volleyball of the 2012 season at just the right time, Wittenberg Head Coach Paco Labrador hedged just slightly.
"I would say there are still some things that we would really like to clean up," Labrador said after his second-ranked Tigers swept sixth-ranked Hope 3-0 in a second round NCAA Division III Tournament match played at Calvin. "Hope is a really good middle blocking team, and we struggled hitting in that area tonight.
"Hopefully, we can just keep moving forward and playing persistently as a unit."
Persistent is a good way to describe the Tigers, winners of 13 straight sets and 14 straight matches in the 2012 season. Consistent is another good word, as Wittenberg has won 16 straight sets and eight straight matches in the NCAA Division III Tournament, dating back to a 2010 loss to Calvin and including a run to the 2011 national title.
The Tigers (27-4) defeated Hope for the second time this season and the 14th time in 16 all-time meetings. The Flying Dutch, runners-up in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, saw their season come to a close with a record of 29-5.
The key to the match was Wittenberg's ability to answer every Hope run, taking the lead midway through the first set with a five-point burst and never looking back. The Tigers did it by spreading the offensive attack around – nine different players recorded at least one kill – and playing steady defense, sparked by senior libero Christina Gilene (Milford, Ohio/McNicholas) with 30 digs, a season-high for a three-set match and her fifth 30-dig match in 2012.
Gilene's defensive performance translated to a .225 team attack percentage, with freshman Kara Seidenstricker (London, Ohio/Jonathan Alder) posting 14 kills from the right pole and senior Jessica Batanian (Sylvania, Ohio/Notre Dame) leading the Tigers with 15 kills from the left. Both players also had a hand in eight team blocks – the third-highest total of the season for Wittenberg. Junior Andrea Behling (Columbus, Ind./North) led with six blocks, followed by Seidenstricker with five.
Wittenberg advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament Round of 16 for the 12th time in program history. The Tigers will take on the winner of a second round match between 13th-ranked Mount Union and top-ranked Calvin at 7 p.m. Saturday, also at Calvin.