Game of the Week: EUWVB defeats Stevenson in five sets to win the MAC Championship

By: Will Cunningham

Before the season began, I did a feature for the Women’s Volleyball team with one question in mind: “Could they repeat as conference champions?” The events that unfolded on Nov. 5 answered that question with a resounding ‘yes’ as the Eagles have once again won the conference after defeating Stevenson 3-2 in an absolute thriller.

This MAC Commonwealth championship match will go down as Eastern’s game of the year. Words can scarcely describe the tension, drama and nervousness every player, coach and fan experienced. With both teams exchanging key blows, brutal mistakes and memorable moments, this game will be remembered for a long time by everyone in attendance.

Of course, everyone who followed these two schools knew that this match would be a close one. Stevenson has an incredibly talented squad that matches up against Eastern quite well. Led by outside hitter Shannon Baily and libero Kayla Vaeth, they went 25-4 prior to this matchup and took Eastern to five sets in each of their previous three meetings, including last year’s conference championship.

Their might showed in the first two sets, dominating the Eagles by a combined 22 points. Eastern committed 12 errors and had their attacks blocked six times. They struggled with scoring points, and the defense had no answers for Stevenson’s powerful offense. 

Then, the Eagles suddenly woke up, and they played like the team that went undefeated in conference play. They jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the third set and, while Stevenson kept it close, never relinquished it. They did the same in the fourth set, limiting themselves to just three errors and scoring 20 of their points via kill. It was a great momentum shift for the Eagles, as they reminded fans of the talent they held.

With the game coming down to a fifth set, nerves went through the roof. Fans were either holding their breath, screaming as means of creating momentum or praying for the best. Even the players felt the nerves, as five of the first nine rallies ended in errors. The two squads went blow for blow, with the set tied 10-10 a good way through. Somebody had to pull away. Eastern did, scoring four straight points before first-year outside hitter Hannah Pringle delivered an emphatic spike to complete the comeback. The players stormed the court, the fans erupted with cheers while chucking packs of Pringles chips and the coaches and game staff all breathed a heavy sigh of relief upon this fairytale ending.

Pringle led the Eagles with 21 kills, followed by Bridgette Kelly and Natalie Saxton with 10 each. MAC Commonwealth player of the year Elle Jiron-Bujanda continued her all-around excellence, digging 13 attacking hits, assisting 45 Eastern attacks and adding four kills.

First-year defensive specialist Viviana Fragoso was named the MVP of the match. She recorded two service aces and dug 11 attacking hits against the Mustangs, and her presence in the back row became critical to Eastern’s defense as she solidified a starting role in the rotation.

This is the Eagle’s 23rd conference championship and 21st birth to the NCAA tournament under head coach Mark Birtwhislte. It was also Birtwistle’s 800th victory as a coach, adding to his long list of achievements during his 33 years leading the program.

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