WJU Cruises To Regional Final

Cardinals meet Gannon for title tonight

Photo by Cody Tomer Wheeling Jesuit’s Stephanie Sylvester dives for a ball during Friday’s regional semifinal match.

WHEELING–Wheeling Jesuit is one step closer to claiming another NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional title.

The Cardinals took care of Indian University of Pennsylvania in straight sets by scores of 25-19, 25-19 and 25-21 on Friday at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.

Each set was tied late in the action but every time IUP started to grasp momentum, the Cardinals pulled away and cruised to victory.

“It was really important to finish strong,” Jesuit’s Cassie Meyer said. “We were kind of back and forth for a while but I think that worked for us. We got the lead at the end, pulled away and finished each set.”

Jesuit faced IUP earlier in the season and walked away with a sweep, but Cardinals coach Christy Benner knew the Crimson Hawks would bring their best effort.

“I am really happy for our girls,” Benner said. “As a team, we got together (Friday) and talked about what we needed to do and I thought they executed well.

“We knew it was going to be a tough task. IUP has been playing tough at the end of the year and they are a different team than they were earlier on in the year, so I knew it was going to be a battle. We just stayed grounded and stayed with what was working.”

The opening set was deadlocked seven times early in the action. As the score read 16-16, the Cards reeled off four consecutive points and finished the set on a 9-3 run to secure the early advantage.

The second set was more of the same as the teams played to 10 ties, the last being 15-15. Jesuit held a late 20-19 edge with IUP charging but the Cardinals finished the set on a 5-0 run to go ahead 2-0 in the match.

The final set was the closest of all three as the teams found themselves tied 13 times. With the scoreboard reading 21-20 in favor of the Hawks, Jesuit turned in the final five points of the contest to eliminate IUP and advance to the regional championship.

“Besides the third set, our hitting percentage wasn’t the best,” Benner said. “But we just kept working at it until we found some things that were working and it went our way at the end.

“Some girls had some big nights and really came up big for us. I was really happy for them.

“Congratulations to IUP and their seniors on successful careers.”

The Cardinals will take on the two-seed Gannon at 7 p.m. tonight, who defeated Pitt-Johnstown in four sets Friday.

“Gannon is very well coached and very disciplined,” Benner said. “They have a big block and ever since Coach Matt Darling has taken over that team, they have always had successful years. I expect nothing but the best from them.”

Jesuit was led by Maddy Smyth with 18 kills and 20.5 points, while Meyer turned in 13 kills, 10 digs and 14.5 points. Stephanie Sylvester added 41 assists.

“I will definitely say our slides were working,” Smyth said. “Stephanie and I were connecting really well. In an important game like this, our energy helped a lot, just making sure we stayed up and connected all around.”

Natalie Cignetti led IUP with 11 kills and 12. 5 points.

“I am just blessed to have such great kids and great players,” IUP coach Scott Pennewill said. “They brought dedication and determination and just a work ethic that I couldn’t be more proud of. It’s a family and I am going to miss them a lot.”