MAC Freedom Champions: Volleyball (10-0)

A youthful women’s volleyball squad dominated MAC play on their way to winning the MAC Freedom Conference Championship. Eastern students were spoiled all year, watching the women’s volleyball team steamroll opponents all the way through the playoffs. Ranked as the number one seed in their conference, the team earned a 1st round bye before sweeping Wilkes out of the playoffs in the 2nd round. Winning the sets 25-10, 25-14 and 25-9, the outcome was never in question. The Eagles moved on to host DeSales in the conference championship.

DeSales large contingent of supporters seemed to feed them with an energy which enabled them to challenge the Eagles. Not to be undone, the Eagles battled hard and were rewarded with yet another 3-0 sweep. Tournament MVP Courtney Reinhold led the EU attack with 13 kills, 2 aces and 3 blocks. Junior Kara Hildebrand, who finished second on the team with 10 kills, pointed out that Eastern had something to prove from the beginning of the season.

“At the beginning of the year, we were projected to finish 3rd in the MAC,” Hildebrand said. “DeSales was a really good team, but we wanted to win really bad.”

First-year Maria Horning, the team’s ace setter, was thrilled with the team’s results in her rookie season on the squad. “We definitely hoped we would win,” Horning said. “But we didn’t expect to win it. We definitely exceeded expectations.”

Entering the NCAA tournament, Eastern fielded an almost entirely new starting lineup from 2007. Facing the Neumann Knights, EU may have had a bit of something to prove, as the Knights knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs in ’07. Led by Hildebrand’s 13 kills, and Freedom Conference Player of the Year Maria Horning’s 37 assists, Eastern downed Neumann, 25-15, 25-23 and 25-8.

Next up for the Eagles was Salisbury. The now 34-1 Eagles continued to dominate, again downing the opposition in three sets. Courtney Reinhold’s 18 kills were enough to see them through to the Sweet Sixteen.

Unfortunately, the Eagles magical run ended against Juniata. The Eagles of Juniata grabbed the early leads and managed to escape to the 3rd round where the Eastern effort came up short. “They were a great team, with a quick offense,” Hildebrand said.

While the Eagles run may not have ended with an NCAA Championship, they figure as a force to be reckoned with next year. Hildebrand points to team unity playing a major role in their success. She referred to the number “113” – all the players’ numbers added together. “We really concentrated on the team, not on individuals,” Hildebrand said. She thinks that next year, the strong incoming class of this year will have a lot to offer next year’s first-years.

“Playing at the collegiate level is just a big step up,” Horning said, reflecting on what she can pass on to the new girls next year. “But the girls on the team have just been really welcoming.”

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