Stanford, CA – The SHU women's volleyball team made program history by winning the second set Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against #11 Stanford. The Pioneers second set triumph was the first time Sacred Heart, or any NEC program, took a game from a nationally ranked opponent in the Big Dance. SHU nearly went on to pull the upset as the Cardinal had to make a third set comeback en route to knocking SHU out of the tournament, 3-1. Senior captain Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) posted a match high 21 digs while Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) rounded out her collegiate career with a double-double, registering 12 kills and 11 digs.
Sacred Heart (27-8) made a statement out of the blocks, rattling off the first three points of the match on a Roleder kill, an Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) service ace, and a Cardinal error. However, the six-time national champion Cardinal rallied to build a 10-5 advantage and force Machan to call a timeout. Colberg had six digs in the opening game but the home team tallied 15 kills and a .500 hitting percentage to grab the early lead, 1-0.
Stanford (22-7) faced a different Pioneer team in the second set as Sacred Heart went toe-to-toe with the perennial powerhouse. Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario) caught fire early in the frame, blasting four kills in the early going as SHU held a 5-4 edge. Ovsenek finished the night with 11 kills and a team high .250 hitting percentage. Sage and Alissa Young (La Verne, CA) combined for a block to push SHU in front, 19-18, and attack error on the next point forced Stanford to call a timeout.
The Cardinal leveled it at 20-20 with back-to-back kills before a Sage slam gave the Pioneers a 21-20 lead. Sage issued one of her six kills of the match to make it 22-20 as the Cardinal used its second timeout of the game. The two sides were level at 23-23 when Roleder ripped a kill off the block to set up set point. The 6-2 outside hitter then delivered an ace, one of SHU's seven of the match, to make history as the Pioneers leveled the match 1-1, with a 25-23 victory.
"It's been an amazing, amazing four years and we always say that every year we've gotten better and yeah, we took a step, we took a game away from them," said Colberg. "We can compete with any team."
The Pioneers rode the momentum after the intermission and exploded out to a 9-4 cushion. SHU forced an early Cardinal timeout after winning four straight points on the strength of kills from Alisa Mesa (Long Beach, CA), Mercado, and Sage, as well as a Colberg service ace. Mesa dished out 37 assists in her first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cardinal would take control and went on top, 18-13, behind one of their 20 total blocks.
Sacred Heart refused to go quietly and Roleder pounded back-to-back kills to cut the deficit to one at 22-21. The Cardinal then committed an attacking error as SHU completed their own comeback to level the frame at 22-22. Stanford would surge down the stretch and finished the set 25-22 with a block from Lydia Bai and Carly Wopat. Bai finished with 14 kills while Rachel Williams paced the Cardinal attack with 18 kills.
Stanford kept the pressure on and never looked back, building a 16-6 advantage. The Pioneers highlight of the fourth set came when Sage scorched a kill that knocked over Stanford libero Hannah Benjamin. Benjamin was top on the Cardinal squad with 15 digs. The Cardinal would go on to win the match 3-1, and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm really impressed with Sacred Heart," said Stanford head coach John Dunning. "They have good skill. They made us raise our game, and that's good for us."
"We made Stanford have to play great tonight," said Machan. "Unfortunately they did."
The Pioneers impressive showing in the NCAA Tournament rounds out a very successful season in which SHU obtained its highest-ever RPI (78) and claimed a second consecutive Northeast Conference championship.