Tigers tangle with Juniata in top-3 matchup

Tigers defeat Juniata to reclaim #2 ranking after Trinity Fall Invitational

A grueling early season schedule saw Trinity volleyball clash with six teams ranked in the top 25 of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll, including four in the top ten. After a hot 5-0 start, the Tigers suffered two losses before returning to the court this past weekend for the Trinity Fall Invitational, which they opened against the #2 Juniata Eagles.

A full student section poured over to join parents as the game began a little later than the 7 p.m. scheduled start. Students continued to trickle in even after the game began, with the football, swim and men’s club volleyball teams all out in full support. The packed Calgaard Gymnasium played a huge role in the game, feeding back into the energy of the Tigers on the court, who came out of the gates hot.

Bucky Williammee, father of super senior outside hitter Sarah Williammee, played a big part in leading the fans. He handed off his own Trinity flag to first-year linebacker LJ Brown, who received exuberant cheers as he sprinted around Calgaard waving it.

“This is the loudest I’ve ever seen it, in my fifth year coming to all the games,” Williammee said. “It’s great when you play someone who’s like your equal, when you play really good competition. It’s so exciting to watch teams and our team come together and how teams form and how they depend on each other.”

A 4-0 run in the first set for Trinity gave the Tigers a five-point cushion, forcing Juniata to call their first timeout of the evening at 15-10. Yet it didn’t aid them much in their effort to crawl back into the set. A couple of swings from first-year outside hitter Reagan Whatley were placed in the far right corner of the court, extending the Tigers’ lead to seven and prompting another Juniata timeout late in the set.

Juniata would answer with a 5-1 run of their own that would force head coach Julie Jenkins to use her first timeout, which proved to be just what her squad needed. Out of the timeout, super senior Sara Flynn would earn a kill with a left-handed swing and Whatley would finish the job with a kill of her own on a Juniata pass that sailed long.

The second set saw much of the same for the Tigers, including great defense at the net that influenced the game all evening long. Trinity ended the game with 15 blocks, a huge accomplishment in itself; the Tigers’ presence at the net forced Juniata into errors. The Eagles would commit 31 attacking errors in the match, compared to just 11 from Trinity.

“It was more of a spectacular defensive game with 15 blocks in four sets which is really good. You’re doing good if you can average two a game. We were at four a game and we really hit under pressure. We were low error. 11 hitting errors in four games,” Jenkins said.

A couple of these unforced errors pushed the Tigers’ lead to 12-8 in the second set, prompting a timeout from Juniata and a deafening “stop the bleeding” chant from the student section. Everything was working in favor of the home team, as a serve by Whatley would graze the top of the net and drop in, and a big block would be followed up by a massive swing from junior outside hitter Mackenzie Logan. The lead kept growing, and, despite another Juniata timeout at 18-11, Trinity would run away with the second set 25-15.

Despite falling behind 4-0 quickly in the third set, Juniata would battle back to take a 10-8 lead which they would push to 12-8 after a Trinity timeout. It was a back-and-forth effort the rest of the way, but Trinity was unable to close the gap and the Eagles snagged the set to make it 2-1.

The fourth set opened with Trinity jumping out to another lead, and an enormous swing from junior middle blocker Maddie Fate would push it to 9-5, sending the Trinity fans to their feet. Juniata battled back well, closing it to 14-12 and tying it at 18-all. Even when Trinity looked to have the victory secured with a 22-18 advantage, the Eagles refused to quit.

A 5-0 run would give Juniata the lead, forcing a Trinity timeout and a neck-and-neck affair the rest of the way as each squad pulled back in front. Two from Trinity gave them game point, but Juniata swung back with two of their own for the same chance. The teams pushed the score to 28-all and then Trinity’s presence at the net came into play. A tip wide from Juniata would be followed by a swing that hit the ground beyond the service line, giving the Tigers a 30-28 claim to the set and a 3-1 victory.

“I feel very proud of my team, first of all, for sticking to the game plan, but also being calm under pressure. We talk a lot about pressure as a privilege. And we totally did that and executed that today in our match, especially in the fourth set,” Marisa Amarino, a senior setter, said.

Sarah Williammee earned tournament MVP honors as well as SCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Super senior Emily Ellis earned SCAC Defensive Player of the Week honors after posting eight blocks. Trinity rounded out the weekend with two more victories ahead of their first weekend of SCAC play at Centenary College, which begins Saturday at 11 a.m.