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Allendale, Mich. - The Ferris State University women's volleyball team overcame the odds in thrilling fashion to claim the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Championship and move on to the Elite Eight as the Bulldogs topped archrival Grand Valley State 3-2 in a come from behind victory in the title match on Saturday (Dec. 7) in Allendale.
Ferris State dropped the opening two sets of the match and trailed 11-7 in the fifth and final frame before climbing back to notch the improbable victory. It capped an exciting three-day run for the Bulldogs as they marched to the regional championship.
With the triumph, FSU advances to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight set for next Thursday thru Saturday (Dec. 12-14) at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. FSU is slated to face BYU-Hawaii in the national quarterfinals on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. (ET).
FSU battled back time after time in the regional final to claim the dramatic win (13-25, 22-25, 25-15, 28-26, 15-13) by taking the final three sets.
The Bulldogs were making their first appearance in a regional final since 1992. This year's NCAA Tournament appearance represented FSU's 18th in school history, including the third consecutive year in which Ferris State has reached at least the regional semifinals.
Ferris State, which was seeded second in the region, entered the match as the underdog against the top-seeded Lakers on their home floor despite the fact the two West Michigan rivals were at the top of the regional rankings throughout the season.
The Lakers took the first set in commanding fashion by a 25-13 score after jumping out to an early lead. The Bulldogs totaled a -.091 attack figure in the opening set as the Lakers bolted out to the initial advantage and later scored six consecutive points en route to the win.
GVSU then won a close second frame 25-22 over FSU as the Bulldogs hit only .025 thru the first two sets of action. Ferris State was within striking distance much of the way and later pulled within two points late in the match, but a service error at the end gave the Lakers the triumph.
Ferris State fought back, though, as the Bulldogs dominated the third set with a 25-15 win. FSU hit .268 in the frame and came up with 28 digs, including eight in the frame from senior libero Brandie Merren.
A hotly-contested fourth set was finally won by the Bulldogs 28-26 on an ace serve at the final point. The frame was close the entire way as the Bulldogs built a late 21-19 advantage before Grand Valley State scored three consecutive points to surge ahead. The two squads then traded leads several times before the Bulldogs notched the final two points of the set to force the deciding frame. Overall, the match was so close that both squads had 50 kills and 27 errors apiece heading into the final set.
The Bulldogs built an early 6-4 advantage in the fifh set before the Lakers battled back and eventually took a 11-7 lead following a key run. However, Ferris State didn't quit as the Bulldogs came up with six-straight points to build a 13-11 cushion. GVSU then took two of the next three points to pull within 14-13 before FSU senior Angi Kent registered the game-winning kill to give the Bulldogs the regional crown.
Ferris State received a lift off the bench as sophomore Danielle Dowd came on to serve four-straight points in the deciding frame.
The Lakers, who were the top-seeded team in the region, were riding a 21-match winning streak and had not lost this season since a 3-2 setback against the Bulldogs in Big Rapids back on Oct. 1. GVSU closed the year with a 31-4 overall record.
Ferris State was led by sophomore outside hitter Alexis Huntey's match-high tying 14 kills. FSU also received 12 kills from Kent en route to 56 total kills and a .129 attack figure. The Lakers, meanwhile, received 14 kills from Megan Schroeder along with 12 by Betsy Ronda in addition to 11 from Abby Aiken and 10 by Kaleigh Lound.
The Bulldogs racked up 113 total digs in the match, including 33 from Merren. Sophomore Megan Vander Meer tallied 17 digs as did Huntey while junior outside hitter Courtney Rehm came up with 15 digs, freshman setter Stephanie Sikorski totaled 12 and Caroline Heitzman netted 10.
FSU also received nine kills each from Heitzman, Rehm and Vander Meer. At the net, the Bulldogs totaled 15 blocks to 12 for GVSU with Heitzman pacing FSU with two solo efforts and five block assists. Vander Meer added four assists to go with a solo hit of her own.
Sikorski directed the Bulldog attack and recorded 48 assists in the match as FSU improved to 25-8 overall this campaign.
In addition to the 56 kills and 113 digs, the Bulldogs had five service aces and eight errors. GVSU totaled three aces, four errors from the service line and 109 total digs besides 58 kills and a .113 hitting figure. Christina Canepa recorded a match-best 39 digs for the Lakers.
Saturday's win was the 500th career coaching victory for FSU head coach Tia Brandel-Wilhelm, who won 118 matches at West Virginia Wesleyan prior to her current 382 victories at the Bulldog helm.
Three Bulldog players were named to the Midwest Regional All-Tourament Team at the conclusion of the match in Sikorski, Merren and Rehm. In addition, Kent was also honored prior to the start of the tournament as a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Honorable Mention All-Region Team this season.
Saturday night's victory marks the third time in which FSU has claimed a regional championship as the Bulldogs previously won crowns back in 1987 and 1989.
Additional details on the NCAA Division II Elight Eight will be announced as they become available at FerrisStateBulldogs.com
Ferris State Volleyball Claims Midwest Regional Title To Reach NCAA Elite Eight!
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