Kellee Geren registered a double-double and Julia Codispoti drove home 15 kills as the Milligan College volleyball team knocked off Cornerstone University (30-10) in four sets (18-25, 25-19, 26-24, 25-22) in the opening round of the NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship Saturday afternoon inside Mol Arena.
With the win, the Buffs (26-6) have now won 17 of their last 19 matches and advance to the final site of the national tournament in Sioux City, Iowa. This marks the second time Milligan has ever advanced to the final site as the Buffs also reached that same feat in 1996. Play at the final site begins Tuesday, Nov. 27, and finishes Saturday, Dec. 1.
“Super excited that my team made the most of this opportunity,” said Head Coach Doneva Bays. “We had a rocky start with too many unforced errors, but after the first set we focused and locked in. We executed extremely well and stayed with our game plan.”
After dropping the first set 25-18, Milligan would not drop another one throughout the match.
The Buffs jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the second set and never trailed throughout the entire game. Leading 11-10, Milligan went on a 4-0 run that featured two kills from Alyssa Gibson to put enough breathing room between them and Cornerstone to pull out the 25-19 win.
In the third, a quick 5-0 start to the set led to a Golden Eagles timeout as Milligan had captured the momentum. The Buffs opened as large of a lead as six at 11-5, but Cornerstone hung around and eventually went on a 4-0 run of their own to recapture the advantage at 17-16. Both teams would trade points back-and-forth until Gibson and Abby Falcone were able to score back-to-back kills for a 26-24 win.
It was a tight battle early in the fourth, but Milligan used runs of 3-0 and 4-1 to open up the lead after the score was even at six all. Cornerstone would claw their way back into the game and eventually get within one point at 21-20. The Buffs would respond by scoring four of the next six capped off by a Julie Dockery kill to seal the victory and advance to the final site.
BY THE NUMBERS
Geren, an All-AAC first team selection, orchestrated the Buffs offensive attack with 52 assists and scooped up 16 digs on the defensive end for her 17th double-double of the season.
The junior setter’s top target on the day was Codispoti, who drilled home 15 kills on 26 attempts along with four errors for a .423 hitting percentage. Codispoti’s 15 kills matched her career high, that she previously set against Point University on Nov. 9. Gibson, a junior outside hitter, collected a career high 15 kills in the victory.
Freshman Elise Gregory notched her 11th double-double of the season with 10 kills and 10 digs as she continued her stellar freshman campaign. Up the middle, Dockery recorded eight kills to round out the Buffs offensive attack.
Defensively, Milligan was led by the 2018 AAC Libero of the Year, Alyssa Rupert, who came away with a match-high 19 digs. Layla Grant, Cameron McConnell and Gibson each dug out at least five attacks for the match.
“We had great performances out of lots of people,” said Bays, “but Gibson and Codispoti had a great offensive day. Rupert had some big digs against a strong offense. We are thrilled to head to Iowa.”
Cornerstone was led by the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference player of the year, Kendra Zwart, who entered the contest as the nation’s leader in blocks and ranked No. 2 in kills. Zwart was accredited 19 kills on 34 attempts with only one error for a .529 hitting percentage. The senior also recorded seven blocks. Bailey Cummings chipped in with 17 kills for the Golden Eagles.
Milligan will travel to the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, to begin pool play at the final site of the 39th annual NAIA Women’s Volleyball National Championship. There will be eight pools with four teams in each pool. The top two teams from each pool will advance to single elimination championship play. The event begins Tuesday, Nov. 27, with the championship game taking place Saturday, Dec. 1. More information will be released at a later date.