BY ERIN MADDEN
The Lady Barons pulled out a nail-biting semifinal match, trading points late into the 3rd set and ultimately beating no. 6 La Roche in straight sets, 25-18, 26-24 and 31-29.
The team improved on a four set win against La Roche during the regular season. With this semifinal win, the Lady Barons move into their first ever AMCC tournament finals.
“We knew it was going to be a very tough match today,” Head Coach Kelly Herrmann said. “That was the toughest three game match that I’ve ever been a part of. I’m excited for tomorrow because Penn. St-Altoona is the no.1 seed and we can just play relaxed.”
The third set was anything but relaxing, with both teams trading points from a 21-21 tie with outstanding defensive effort on both sides. Junior outside hitter Dani Link, solid as she has been all season, put away the final point for the Lady Barons to be able to advance. Link finished with nine kills and 17 digs on the night.
“Dani didn’t serve well early, and then her serving was tremendous late in the game,” Herrmann said. “Now you are seeing the leaders really come through in the big points. That was really the difference in this match.”
Leadership from the junior class played a large difference in the match, with junior outside hitter/defensive specialist Christina Lawrence playing one of her best matches of the season. Lawrence’s back row hitting was particularly effective in this match, finishing with seven kills and 15 digs.
“If the back row is an option for hitting too, it takes pressure off the offense,” Herrmann said. “I just think Christina is playing with confidence. She plays fabulous in practice, and, since I told her that in practice, her performances in games have just gotten better and better.”
Another key to the Lady Baron’s spectacular play of late has been the leadership of senior setter Amy O’Keefe, who finished with 25 assists, in a return to a 5-1 offense that the team used in her first three years. Returning to that particular offense has given the team some stability in crucial games, particularly for the experienced players.
“The biggest help is that having one setter gives more consistency than two,” Herrmann said. “One positive is that it makes our offense more consistent, and that gives the girls a lot of confidence.”
The Lady Barons have improved in the conference tournament every year, moving into their first finals where they will face no. 1 Penn. St-Altoona, who went undefeated in the regular season. In the previous matchup between the teams, the Lady Barons were able to take a set off Altoona and look to improve on that performance.
“These girls want it so bad,” Herrmann said. “They just need to relax and go for it; they have nothing to lose. Hopefully, they will hang on to that and want to take on the David role in David vs. Goliath.”
The Lady Barons will take on host Penn. St-Altoona in the AMCC Finals Nov. 9th at 1 p.m.