Carthage Punches Their Ticket to the National Championship

Carthage Punches Their Ticket to the National Championship

Carthage 3, Washington (Mo.) 2

The Carthage College women's volleyball team (33-6, 7-0 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin), ranked ninth in the Nov. 8 American Volleyball Coaches Association NCAA Division III poll, is on its way to its first-ever appearance in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship.  Carthage won the regional championship on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13 with a come-from-behind, 3-2 win over No. 2 Washington University (Mo., 34-2) at the Washington University Field House in St. Louis, Mo.  The Lady Reds winning set scores over the Bears were 20-25, 12-25, 25-23, 25-22 and 15-11.  The Bears' only other loss this year was to then-No. 3 Emory University on Oct. 16.

Carthage advanced to the regional finals with a 3-0 sweep of CCIW-member and No. 16 Elmhurst College (31-6) in the Saturday, Nov. 12 semifinals  The Lady Reds' winning set scores over the Bluejays were 25-20, 25-19 and 27-25.  Carthage opened regional play on Friday, Nov. 11 with a 3-0 sweep of Edgewood College (21-14) with winning scores of 25-13, 25-12 and 25-16.

Also on Carthage's side of the regional quarterfinals bracket, Elmhurst (31-5) outlasted Cornell College (28-6), 3-2, in Friday's opening match.  The Bluejays' winning set scores over the Rams were 25-17, 20-25, 18-25, 25-21 and 15-10.   In the third quarterfinal match, No. 15 the University of Chicago (30-5) defeated No. 21 Wisconsin-Whitewater (26-8), 3-1, with winning scores of 25-22, 23-25, 25-14 and 25-16.  No. 2 Washington (Mo., 33-1) swept Webster University (19-13), 3-0, in the final quarterfinal match, with winning scores of 25-17, 25-9 and 25-17. Washington (Mo., 34-1) swept Chicago (30-6), 3-0, in Saturday's second semifinal with winning set scores of 25-17, 25-22 and 25-16. 

In the regional-championship match, Washington (Mo.) never trailed in the first set, although the score was tied at both 11-11 and 13-13.  The Bears opened a four-point lead, 20-16, before the Lady Reds scored twice to close the gap to 20-18.  Washington went back up by four, 23-19, extended its lead to five, 24-19, and won the set by five, 25-20.  The Bears broke open the second set by extending a 12-8 lead to 17-8 with five unanswered points.  Washington maintained at least a nine-point spread the rest of the way, going on to win by 13 points, 25-12. 

Carthage jumped out to a 6-1 lead in a critical set three and led by as much as six, 15-9.  Following a couple of big kills by Drew Hargrave, Washington tied the contest, 18-18.  A kill by Michelle Madeja capped a three-point Carthage run to put the Lady Reds up by three, 21-18.  Carthage was still leading by three, 22-19, before the Bears used a 4-1 run to tie the set, 23-23, but the Lady Reds took the final two points to win, 25-23.  Carthage fell behind in the fourth set, 8-2.  The Lady Reds trailed by five, 18-13, before a 7-1 run gave them their first lead, 20-19.  The set was tied at 21-21, but Carthage took the next three points to take a 24-21 lead, en route to a 25-22 decision to force a fifth-and-final set.

The Lady Reds took the lead, to stay, in the final set, 4-3.  Carthage led by three, 8-5.  Washington got as close as one, 8-7, before the Lady Reds took the next three points to go up, 11-8.  Carthage still led by three, 13-10, when the Bears took the next point to make it 13-11.  The Lady Reds won the last two points for a 15-11 win.  “We were playing well,” said Carthage coach Leanne Ulmer, “and you could just feel that it was going to be a match.  Michelle Madeja struggled a little in the early going, and then she just went off.  Things started bouncing our way, and mistakes that normally get made weren't happening.  Once we got a lead in the third set and held them off, it seemed to turn the tide for us.”

Cindy Cavanagh (Sr., Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) and Michelle Madeja (Sr., Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley) led Carthage with 14 kills each, with Cavanagh hitting .312 (14-4-32) and collecting four block assists.  Jordan Burkholder (Sr., Rockford, Ill./Christian Life) added eight kills.  Lauren Budde topped the Bears with 18 kills and a .245 attack percentage, while Meghan Byrne had 16 kills.

“The word amazing comes to mind,” said Ulmer.  “This was the most incredible comeback and show of determination I have ever seen from my team.  They were unbelievable, especially after losing the first two sets and struggling a little bit offensively.  We've never beaten this team, and I told the girls we just need to do it one time. These girls were in a regional final as freshmen, so they've been through a lot.  We played the toughest schedule in the country this year, and I think it paid off.  Washington looked a little shocked at the end, but they are an amazing team.  They're a well-coached, national-caliber team, and it took a super effort on our part to win this.  Coach Rich Luenemann wife suffered a brain aneurysm a few months ago, and I feel so much for him.  For him to even be here today was amazing.  He's hurting, and his team is hurting.”

Carthage now advances to the eight-team national championship, also at the Washington Field House.  The Lady Reds will play No. 20 Springfield College (34-2) in a Friday, Nov. 18 quarterfinal match.  Also on Carthage's side of the bracket, No. 11 the University of St. Thomas (Minn., 32-4) will take on No. 4 Eastern University (35-2).  On the other side of the bracket, No. 5 Wittenberg University (34-3) will play No. 17 California Lutheran University (29-6), and No. 6 Christopher Newport University (36-4) takes on No. 18 the State University of New York-Cortland (42-1).

“There were upsets all over the country in the regional finals,” said Ulmer, “and no team in this final eight has ever won a national championship.  There's going to be a new national champion this year, and we think it could be Carthage. We've been on this Washington Field House court so many times, it almost feels like home.  I am so happy for these kids.  To finally break through and win a regional title and play for a national championship is just a dream come true.”

This is Carthage's eighth NCAA appearances and seventh in a row.  The Lady Reds qualified for the regional championship in 1990 and again from 2005 to 2010.  After bowing out in the quarterfinals in both 2005 and 2006, the 2007, 2008 and 2009 squads reached the regional-championship match.  The 2007 team lost to Washington University (Mo.), 3-1, at the Carthage Physical Education Center.  The 2008 team fell to Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 3-2, at the Kolf Sports Center in Oshkosh, Wis., and the 2009 squad lost to Washington University (Mo.), 3-0, in St. Louis, Mo.  The 2010 squad lost in the regional semifinals at Tarble Arena in Kenosha, Wis.