Cards Fly Past WLU, Will Play for Crown

Fairmont again will be the foe

Wheeling Jesuit’s Andrea Thobe (2) sets for Lauren Graves in an MEC semifinal.

WHEELING — For the fourth season in a row, Wheeling Jesuit University will face off with Fairmont State in the Mountain East Conference Championship after the Cardinals swept West Liberty in the semifinals on Friday, by scores of 25-11, 25-20 and 25-15 at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.

The defending national champions have won 31 consecutive matches and are ranked fifth in the country going into their fourth straight MEC title match.

“I think that we are doing some good things right now,” Wheeling Jesuit coach Christy Benner said. “West Liberty is a great team — blocks well and plays good defense. It is good for us to face someone like that who can raise our level of play.”

With the victory, Jesuit improves its record to 37-2, with its only losses coming to Concordia University St. Paul, the top-ranked team in the country, and the No. 19 team in the nation, Angelo State University.

West Liberty’s season comes to an end with the loss, as it finished with a 23-14 record.

“We knew it was going to be a tough match,” West Liberty coach Kayla Fetsko Mull said. “We talked about leaving everything on the floor and I think they made every attempt to do that.

“Overall, it was a great season for us growing-wise. We had a young team coming into the season but after a few months we began to get experience under our belt. Now, we have a lot of players returning for next year and we can build on that in the spring and capitalize on it next fall.”

The Cardinals secured a 6-3 lead in the opening set, when Andrea Thobe began serving and reeled off five consecutive points to put Jesuit on top by an 11-3 count.

West Liberty was unable to put together any long runs to make a comeback and Thobe earned the final point to help the hosts claim the first set.

Abby Moffit collected the first four points of the second set to keep the momentum on the side of the Cardinals. Moments later, with Jesuit holding on to an 8-3 edge, Kailee Cunningham stepped behind the service line for the Hilltoppers and gathered three straight points to cut the lead to two. The teams swapped points for the remainder of the set and with Wheeling Jesuit clinging to a 22-20 edge, Kayce Krucki took over serving duties and reeled off the final three points to give the Cardinals the two-set advantage.

The third set was looking like it would also come down to the very end and the Toppers were hoping to push the it to a fourth set. The Cardinals led 9-8 when Emma Schleucher took over serving duties for the hosts. Schleucher went on to tally 11 straight points to give the defending national champions every ounce of momentum and a 20-8 advantage, which was too much for the Hilltoppers to overcome.

“I thought our offense ran pretty well,” Benner said. “Our middles were really good and they tried to limit the errors. I am happy with it.”

Lauran Graves led the Cardinals with 15 points, 11 kills and seven blocks, while Sydney Obringer followed with 10.5 points and 10 kills. Schleucher delivered 10.5 points and eight kills, Thobe dished out 43 assists and gathered nine digs, Breanna Kramer produced 16 digs and eight points, Krucki supplied 21 digs and Haley Kindall added seven points.

Sydney Scherer paced the Hilltoppers with seven points and five kills, Stephanie Leonard followed with seven digs, five points and four kills, Amanda Leonard provided six assists, four points and four kills, Miranda Garmenn handed out 13 assists and seven digs and Cunningham turned in 18 digs.

Next up for Jesuit is Fairmont State in the MEC Championship at 7:30 tonight. It’s the third time this season the two teams will square off, with Wheeling Jesuit sweeping the first two matches. Jesuit has also defeated the Fighting Falcons in the last three MEC Championship contests.

“Fairmont is playing at a high level,” Benner said. “They have great players and run a nice offense. Mackenzie Harrison is a dominant force for them and we need to know where she is at all times.”