GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – For the third straight season, Wittenberg and Calvin met in an NCAA Division III Tournament regional championship match. After the two teams split the last two meetings en route to national titles for Calvin in 2010 and Wittenberg in 2011, the rubber match in 2012 went to Calvin in dramatic fashion 3-2.
Calvin, ranked No. 1 in the nation, advanced to the national quarterfinals, to be hosted by Hope College on Thursday, Nov. 15. The Tigers, ranked second nationally, saw their eight-match NCAA Division III Tournament winning streak, dating back to the 2010 loss to Calvin, come to an end. Wittenberg, which had won 14 straight matches in 2012, finished the season with a 27-5 overall record.
The two teams were separated by just eight points at the end of five tense sets, which culminated with a tremendous Calvin rally to capture the final two frames. The Tigers won the first and third sets by 25-23 margins, while the Knights battled back to win the second set 25-18 and then came from behind to win the fourth set 26-24. That set the stage for the fifth and final set.
Wittenberg led just once in the fifth frame at 5-4. With the score tied at 6-6, the Knights made their decisive run, reeling off three straight points and seven of the next 10 to open up a 13-9 lead. The Tigers responded well with three straight points, but Calvin closed the match out on the next two points for a 15-12 margin.
The Tigers were paced offensively by junior middle hitter Andrea Behling (Columbus, Ind./North) with 16 kills, while freshman Kara Seidenstricker (London, Ohio/Jonathan Alder) added 15 kills and senior Jessica Batanian (Sylvania, Ohio/Notre Dame) chipped in with 14 kills. In addition, senior setter Hallie Donathan (Tipp City, Ohio/Tippecanoe) turned in one of her finest collegiate performances with five kills, eight digs and a team-high 25 assists.
Defensively, the Tigers countered Calvin's potent attack as best they could, putting three player in double figures for digs, led by senior libero Christina Gilene (Milford, Ohio/McNicholas) with a match-best 32. Behling, freshman Haley Mucha (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy Orange) and freshman Melissa Emming (West Chester, Ohio/Mount Notre Dame) all finished with four blocks.
Seidenstricker and Gilene were named to the regional all-tournament team.
While last year's senior class will always be remembered for bringing home the program's first national championship, the four seniors who played their final match in 2012 leave a similar legacy of excellence and consistency. The tremendous leadership during what was supposed to be a rebuilding season weighed heavily on Head Coach Paco Labrador's mind after the narrow defeat.
"All the credit goes to the seniors who carried this team and mentored the freshmen," Labrador said. "They were tremendous again tonight, just as they were throughout this season."
The efforts of Donathan, Batanian, Gilene and senior setter Jordan Mungovan (Fort Wayne, Ind./Concordia Lutheran) to lead the Tigers into contention for a national title in 2012 figure to pay off in coming years as the younger players step to the forefront and pick up the mantle of leadership.
"The returning players know this is only a loss if they don't take advantage of this experience in the seasons to come," Labrador said. "I'm excited to spend the offseason continuing to cultivate these student-athletes. I am confident that they will build upon this experience and lead this team in the future."