Tina Elstner's match-high 18 kills and 28 digs for UW-Oshkosh were not enough as nationally ranked UW-Whitewater pulled out a highly contested 3-1 win over the Titans during the semifinal round of the WIAC Women's Volleyball Championship (Presented by Culver's) on Thursday (Nov. 1) in Whitewater.
UW-Whitewater (24-6), seeded second at the league postseason tournament, defeated sixth-seeded UW-Oshkosh in set scores of 26-24, 25-22, 24-26, 25-22 in a match that was tied on 19 occasions.
The Warhawks advance to play at top-seeded UW-Eau Claire in the final of the WIAC Championship on Saturday (Nov. 3). UW-Eau Claire (28-3) reached the league championship with a 3-1 win over fifth-seeded UW-Stevens Point (18-16) on Thursday. UW-Eau Claire and UW-Whitewater rank 15th and 18th in the NCAA Division III, respectively, by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
The Titans fell short in their attempt to become the first sixth-seeded team to ever play in the WIAC Championship final. UW-Oshkosh, which won by a 3-1 score at third-seeded UW-La Crosse during the opening round Tuesday, was the first sixth seed to win a match in the league postseason tournament since 1997.
Kelley Berk led UW-Whitewater with 15 kills on .364 hitting. Erin McNeil chipped in 13 kills and five blocks for the Warhawks, who also received 10 kills from Rachel Butterfield, 28 assists and 14 digs from KellyAnn Sotiros, and 28 digs from Brittany Robinson.
Elstner, who hit .282 and collected a career-best dig total Thursday, capped her four years at UW-Oshkosh with 1,151 kills, 900 digs and 25 double-doubles.
UW-Oshkosh's Rachel Gardner registered 23 digs to increase her three-year collegiate total to 1,517.
Emma Kiekhofer matched her season high with 34 assists and established a career high with 18 digs as she notched her third double-double of the year for the Titans. Rebecca Doughty dished out 16 assists while splitting setting duties with Kiekhofer.
UW-Oshkosh, which was making its fifth straight WIAC Championship semifinal appearance, concluded Thursday's contest with advantages in kills (58-56), digs (103-92) and blocks (15-11). UW-Whitewater owned a .162 to .136 edge in hitting percentage, and both teams recorded five service aces. The Titans tied their season high in kills and produced their second most digs and blocks on the year.
UW-Whitewater, winner of six of its last eight meetings with the Titans and 308 of its past 346 home matches, went into the contest with a conference-leading .129 opponent hitting percentage and ranked sixth nationally with 238 blocks. UW-Oshkosh listed 10th in the country with 228 blocks on the year.
The Warhawks jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the first set, but UW-Oshkosh battled back to knot the score at 14 following a setting error on UW-Whitewater, and neither side led by more than two points for the remainder of the set. The Titans claimed their first advantage at 15-14 on a kill by Allen and increased their lead to 18-16 after a Warhawk error. UW-Whitewater gained set-point at 24-22 before the Titans tied the frame for the seventh and final time on back-to-back combination blocks by Lemke and Renee Rush, and Elstner and Lemke. However, the Warhawks scored the final two points on a kill from Amanda Spera followed by a double-block on their third set-point.
UW-Oshkosh opened the second set with five straight points, including two via kills from Elstner and Lemke and another on a combination block by Kiekhofer and Lemke. The Warhawks responded with an 11-4 scoring run that provided a 11-9 edge they would not relinquish. Trailing 21-18, UW-Oshkosh got a pair of kills from Lemke to close with one point at 21-20 and 22-21, but UW-Whitewater closed out the frame with three kills over the final four points.
UW-Oshkosh extended its advantage to 14-8 in the third set following a kill by Allen, but UW-Whitewater rallied the knot the score at 17 and 18. The Titans then reclaimed a 20-18 lead after consecutive kills from Lemke and Elstner, but the Warhawks forged a tie at 23 and took its only lead of the set at 24-23 on an Emma Aske kill. UW-Oshkosh avoided the three-set sweep by scoring the next three points on consecutive kills by Allen, Lemke and Jaeke off assists from Kiekhofer. The Titans ended the frame with 20 kills on .294 hitting.
The Titans raced out to an 8-2 lead in the fourth set on the strength of three kills from Elstner, one termination apiece by Allen and Kiekhofer, and blocks from Allen, Jaeke and Lemke. The Warhawks came back to catch UW-Oshkosh at 15 on a service ace by Robinson. Tied again at 21 after a Lemke kill, UW-Whitewater took the lead for good at 22-21 on a Titan attack error that was ruled wide by the line judge. Two more UW-Oshkosh errors allowed the Warhawks to reach match-point at 24-21, and McNeil concluded the contest two points later with a kill.
UW-Oshkosh (17-15), which finished with a .500 or better record for the 20th straight season, sports a 37-35 record at the WIAC Championship. The Titans secured conference tournament titles in 1990, 1991, 1994 and 2008.
Photo courtesy of Michael McLoone, UW-Whitewater Athletics