BY ERIN MADDEN
The Lady Barons could not find an answer to the strong offense of Juniata College, losing in their first ever NCAA appearance in straight sets, 14-25, 9-25, and 14-25.
After winning their first AMCC title, the Lady Barons played in their first ever NCAA Regional tournament as the no. 6 seed.
“Obviously, when you play a team like Juniata and a program like Juniata, it’s a little overwhelming to develop a game plan,” Head Coach Kelly Herrmann said. “You have to, first of all, go out and play well in every aspect of the game because there’s no weaknesses on the other side of the court.”
The Lady Barons game plan was to come out with an aggressive offense led by junior outside hitter Dani Link. Link finished with six kills, half of them coming in the first set alone. Freshman middle hitter Maria Hruby was also able to make an impact offensively after being subbed in during the first set, finishing with five kills and only one error.
“Against a good team, if you give them a lot of free balls, life is going to be a struggle,” Herrmann said. “I thought early in the match, we didn’t show nerves offensively but it was more in our serve receive and communication, thinking too much.”
The Lady Barons’ defense became more of a strong point as the match continued, but still struggled overall. Junior libero Sam Kelly had to make up for the diminished blocking presence and finished with 16 digs.
“Against their outside hitters, without a significant blocking performance, that made it rough on our defense,” Herrmann said. “Sam is a very capable libero, but, if you don’t block against these ladies, her day gets a little more difficult.”
Competing on the national level was a new experience for the Lady Barons, one that meant a lot to the team’s two seniors, setter Amy O’Keefe and right side hitter Jackie Zucco. O’Keefe, who finished with 17 assists in her final match in a Lady Barons uniform.
“For the seniors’ last performance to be on the national level is a great thing,” Herrmann said. “Unless you are the national champions, you are going to lose your last match. A couple days from now, they will be able to look past and say that was a good season with a lot to be proud of.”
The Lady Barons certainly have a lot to be proud of this season, winning their first conference championship and appearing in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Returning most of their lineup, they look forward to improving their record and moving forward in the conference and in the NCAA tournament overall.
“Let me tell you, I want to be back,” Sam Kelly said. “Now we are going to be noticed in our conference a lot more, which is really exciting. I am really excited to go out there and play volleyball and show people that Franciscan athletics are up and coming.”
The Lady Barons look forward to the 2015 season, returning most of their lineup under the leadership of Link and Kelly.