HOLLAND, MI - It wasn’t exactly the ending that the Clarkson University Volleyball team was hoping for, but after some early match jitters, the Golden Knights settled in and showed that they can compete with virtually any team in the country in a three-set loss (25-13, 27-25, 25-20) to St. Thomas in the NCAA Division III Quarterfinals held at Hope College.
The Golden Knights saw their five-match post-season winning streak come to an end and finished off the season with a record of 31-7, the most wins (31) and the highest winning percentage (.816) in program history. St. Thomas (Minnesota) continues its march toward the national title, improving to 38-1overall with its 33rd straight victory.
“I’m incredibly proud of how my young team performed today,” Clarkson coach Johan Dilfer said. “We had expectations in certain areas of the game and I think we had a good game plan. But being here for the first time was a little intimidating so we struggled in the first set.”
Freshman Aishvina Arasu led Clarkson with 11 kills and Lani Durio had 24 assists for the Golden Knights. “We are a young team and often times people don’t see us as a huge threat and stuff, but in a way we like being the underdog,” Arasu said. “We know we have so much more potential.”
In the first set, Clarkson got out to a narrow lead, but the Tommies rallied back to claim the lead midway through the match. After a kill from Victoria Kirkemo (Englewood, CO) helped the team pull within one point (10-9), Clarkson had a few errors to and St. Thomas was able to record a run of kills to push its advantage to double digits with 10 straight points, forcing the Knights to call their second timeout during the streak. A kill from Arasu (Brea, CA) ended the scoring streak for the Tommies, but the advantage was too much to overcome as Clarkson fell in the opening set 25-13.
The Tommies struck for 14 kills with only three errors in the first set on 30 swings, a .367 hitting percentage, while Clarkson had seven errors on the attack. Arasu led the team with three kills while Victoria Kirkemo and the recently recovered from injury Danielle Farabee (Katy, TX) each produced two kills.
The first set did little to set a tone in the match as the Golden Knights showed that they would not be an easy out of the NCAA Championships. Clarkson fell behind in the second set by three points early on a pair of aces and a block, but kills from Walker and Arasu along with a block gave the Knights their first lead of the match since it led in the early going of set number one. Unfortunately for the Knights, their five-point run was returned by the Tommies with another point added. A Durio (Austin, TX) ace brought Clarkson back to within one point (9-8), but St. Thomas produced another run similar to the one they had in the opening set and went into the timeout up by six points (15-9). It appeared from there that the Tommies would cruise to a second straight easy win, but Clarkson responded with five straight points. Erika Chin (Katy, TX) nearly aced the Tommies to tie the set up, but a diving dig from the back row kept the point alive and eventually went the Tommies way to momentarily keep Clarkson at bay. It would be a quick breath for St. Thomas, however, as Adrienne Walker (Centennial, CO) had a pair of blocks to give Clarkson a 17-16 advantage, forcing the Tommies to take a timeout. The minute break spelled St. Thomas well as the Knights lead was brief. St. Thomas scored three straight to regain its advantage, using some light taps to get over top of the block of Walker and the rest of Clarkson’s front line. Once again, the Knights regrouped with a kill from Arasu and an ace from Walker to take a one-point advantage, but Clarkson was unable to build upon its momentum as the Tommies blocked a swing in the middle and added an ace to put Clarkson head coach Johan Dulfur into a position of taking another timeout late in the set. A pair of errors from Clarkson knotted the score up one more time, and after a kill from St. Thomas, Arasu sent a kill to the back corner to send the set to extra points. Despite the back and forth nature of the second set, St. Thomas finally reclaimed its two-point advantage that it had earlier in the set and outlasted the Knights 27-25.
In the early going of set number three, the Golden Knights utilized Bailey Walker (Centennial, CO), who scored three kills with a variety of shots in the course of four points to give Clarkson and early advantage. Once again, however, the Tommies roared back and took the lead (10-9) following a net violation against Clarkson, not allowing the Knights to build significant momentum. Trailing by one point (12-11), St. Thomas won six straight points on a kill, two aces, and three attack errors by Clarkson, giving the Tommies a 17-12 lead. Though the Knights would pull back to within two tallies (18-16), two more errors and three more kills gave St. Thomas enough of an advantage that it was able to simply hold off Clarkson for a 25-20 win and a three-set sweep of the Knights.
For Clarkson, Arasu produced a match-best 11 kills while Durio also had a match-high 24 assists. Erika Chin had a team-best 15 digs for Clarkson. Overall, the Knights hit just .048 (31-26-105) in the match as the St. Thomas middles combined for 10 total blocks (two solo, 18 block assists).
The Tommies’ Jill Greenfield had eight kills and 12 digs, but more importantly was devastating from the service line with five aces, contributing highly to St. Thomas’s 10-point run in the first set. Paige Brimeyer had eight kills and no errors in 14 swings and Kelly Foley had a team-high 10 kills and seven block assists. Katie Maher ran the offense to the tune of 23 assists, while Kaiti Wachter had a match-high 18 digs.