Women's Volleyball Crowned E8 Champions
The St. John Fisher College women's volleyball team captured the Empire 8 Championship for the first time in program history with a 3-1 win (25-13, 25-27, 25-17, 25-15) against the Nazareth College Golden Flyers on Saturday afternoon at Manning and Napier Varsity Gym.
The win also earned the Cardinals an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Alea Steigerwald, the E8 Tournament's Most Valuable Player, had a stellar performance with 14 kills, a game-high 21 digs, and a .263 hitting percentage. Freshmen duo Lindsey DeBonis (Honors student) and Lauren Gilber (Honors student) also shined with DeBonis posting a game-high 15 kills and Gilbert adding 14 kills of her own. Junior Rebecca Hay reached the 40-assist mark for the first time in five games with a game-high 41 on the day.
The win gives the Cardinals 23 on the year, the most victories in a single season for the program since 1998, which was also the last year they appeared in the NCAA Tournament. Nazareth ends its season with a record of 13-18.
Playing in their first E8 Championship Final in program history, the Cardinals looked poised to start the match. Fisher took a 5-1 advantage early only for the Golden Flyers to cut the lead to two at 10-8. The Cardinals would respond with a 4-1 run with kills from Hay, DeBonis, and freshman Elly Hepburn. Hay then hit an ace to make it 14-9 in favor of Fisher.
Later in the first, the Cardinals strung four points together to go up by nine with Steigerwald and Gilbert each recording a kill during the streak. Halsey set up DeBonis to give Fisher set point. Fisher claimed the opening frame on the following point. As a team, the Cardinals hit .375 in the set.
The second set was a tight affair with neither team taking more than a one point lead for the first 30 points. Nazareth would win three straight and then held a 21-18 edge. But the Cardinals stormed back to tie it at 22-22 with the help of two DeBonis kills. Sophomore Julia Halsey than nailed down a serve to take back the lead for Fisher.
The Cardinals had multiple chances to close out the stanza but the Golden Flyers kept it going until they were able to win back-to-back points and to take the second and tie things up a one set a piece.
Fisher's offense was running on all cylinders in the third set as they hit .600 in the frame. A 6-0 run put the Cardinals in a commanding 9-3 advantage that they would not surrender the rest of the way. A 4-0 run that featured two kills from Steigerwald, a kill by DeBonis and an ace from Sydney French (Honors student) made it 18-10 Fisher.
It was smooth sailing for Fisher as the margin would not go below five for the rest of the set. The Golden Flyers sent one long to give the Cardinals the third set and put them back up 2-1.
The fourth set began close as the difference stayed at two or lower until Fisher reeled off four points in a row that was capped off by back-to-back kills from Gilbert to put the Cardinals on top, 15-11. An ace by DeBonis extended the lead to six at 20-14. Then at 21-15, Steigerwald had an incredible dig that just got over the net. Later in the point, Nazareth sent the ball into the net to give the Cardinals a seven-point edge.
DeBonis earned a kill and then freshman Alexis Mancha recorded an ace to make it championship point for the Cardinals. There was a scramble at the net for the ball and then Nazareth was charged with an attack error, giving Fisher its first-ever E8 title.
Steigerwald tied her own program record for kills in a single season with now 492 this year. As a team, the Cardinals hit .252 for the match. French recorded a game-high three aces as Fisher had 10 aces compared Nazareth's four. DeBonis had a career-high six total blocks in the game as the Cardinals won the block battle 8-2.
This was Fisher's second-straight win over the Golden Flyers, the first time the program has won multiple times against its E8 rival in a single season since 2005.