Was anyone really surprised when Eastern’s volleyball team won the Freedom championships on November 6? Well, perhaps the visiting FDU-Florham Devils were shocked when the Eagles sent them packing after three sets (25-17, 25-15, 25-10), shutting them out of the NCAA tournament with a 3-0 win. With a team led by All-American juniors Courtney Reinhold and Maria Horning , there really wasn’t anything that was going to stop the Eagles from steamrolling their opponents.
“We won in three and didn’t give up a set all year [in regular season],” head coach Mark Birtwistle said who was also awarded Freedom Coach of the Year award.
The #8 Eagles finished with a regular record of 29-4 and a perfect MAC record. They also finished with a number of players being honored on the All-Freedom teams. Reinhold and sophomore Kelly Groff were awarded first-team spots, and sophomore Rachel Wenger snagged a position in the second team. Groff was also awarded the MVP award after Saturday’s game.
“I feel awesome,” Groff said. “Our season so far is great. I wouldn’t be anywhere else but on this team.”
Many of the Eagles also hold top spots in the Freedom conference-only stats. Reinhold leads in hitting percentage (.486) and kills per set (4.71), having reached her 1,500th kill sometime during the season. Junior Mary Poole is second in hitting percentage (.455), and first-year Kearby Benak is third in hitting percentage (.397) and in kills per set (3.24). Benak was also awarded the Rookie of the Year award from the Freedom Conference.
Horning also received her fair share of rewards this year, with a Freedom Player of the Year award, a top-5 national-ranking in assists per set and a place in the CoSIDA/ESPN Academic All-District first team.
The next step for the Eagles is the NCAA regional matches from November 12-14, but as far as Birtwistle is concerned, they just need to take it “one game at a time.”
“Ultimately, we’d want to play Juniata in the finals, but we can’t look past the games beforehand,” Birtwistle said.
“We have a goal in mind, and we’re ready for it,” Groff said.