Franciscan University’s volleyball team advanced Nov. 7 to its second-straight conference championship match with a five-set win in the Buffalo, New York, semifinals over no. 2 Penn St.- Altoona, 25-13, 27-29, 25-21, 18-25 and 15-12.
Senior outside hitter Dani Link became the program’s all-time kill leader. Link only needed five kills to take the program record for her own, achieving this milestone late in the second set on her way to 20 overall. Link also finished with 21 digs, third best on the team, after initially struggling in serve receive.
“Dani had some very, very smart hits,” said Head Coach Kelly Herrmann. “She struggled a little bit in serve receive here and there but she’s very determined. She got back in there and made some great passes late in that match. That’s what you have to do, be mentally tough and know that your teammates are there to help you. I think that helped her over the hump in this match when she was struggling a little bit.”
When Link was struggling early in the match, senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Christina Lawrence stole the show with five consecutive kills in the first set to give Franciscan a 6-4 lead that the Lady Barons never relinquished. Lawrence finished with seven kills in the first set and 20 in the match and led the team in digs with 23.
“Christina made herself into a hitter and she had ups and downs along the way but she was determined,” said Herrmann. “She worked very hard. Christina adds balance to a team with a bunch of good hitters where it makes us tougher to defend.”
Led by Lawrence in the first set, the Lady Barons came out fired up and determined, forcing Altoona into a back corner. Herrmann knew that the Lady Lions were not going down without a fight and encouraged her team to keep fighting.
“Altoona’s a very, very good team,” said Herrmann. “I knew after that first game that was not their best. It’s coming. They had to be ready for a battle. They’re a very good team, a very well-coached team. That was anybody’s game. You just have to fight and do your best to make plays happen. They’re not waiting for somebody to make a mistake to win a point.”
The rest of the match was back and forth as Altoona took the second and fourth sets. Franciscan was not worried, however, with a balanced attack led by junior setter Mary Moore, who played one of her best games of the season with 24 assists and 22 digs.
“As a junior, it’s a little easier for Mary,” said Herrmann. “She’s just mentally tough. She’s been there. She knows how this goes. Remember, she was a hitter last year. She made herself into a setter. She is just playing with a lot of composure and making good decisions.”
Herrmann added, “One thing we have is a lot of balance. We can go a lot of different places on the court. That’s really important especially if you have some girls struggling. We had a couple players in different instances and that’s where that balance really picks you up.”
With shades of last year’s Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference championship match, Franciscan and Altoona went down to the wire in the fifth set with neither team leading by more than two points. Sophomore defensive specialist Rachel Antonelli came in to serve for junior Ellie Waldsmith and helped the team build an 8-7 lead at the changeover.
“She came in and served some tough balls at a tough time in the match,” said Herrmann.
Down 12-11, Lawrence tied the match at 12 with a kill and added three more to put the match away, sending the Lady Barons to their second AMCC championship match. No. 1 Medaille College awaits after beating no. 5 La Roche College in four sets in the first semifinal. During the regular season, the Lady Mavericks handed Franciscan its first conference loss back in October.
“All we can control is our side of the net,” said Herrmann. “We have to play fearless tomorrow. We have to be aggressive. We have to just relish the opportunity and good things will happen. We can’t control how the other team plays, but we can play tough and make it hard on them. That’s our goal.”
Franciscan will seek its second AMCC championship when the Lady Barons take on host Medaille College Nov. 8 at 1 p.m.