KEUKA PARK, N.Y— The Gallaudet University volleyball team won both of its games on Saturday to capture the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championship and earn an automatic bid into the 2010 NCAA Division III tournament in its first season in the NEAC. South Division Player of the Year junior setter Paige Johnson (North Richland Hills, Texas) was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament as she finished the day with 77 assists, 23 digs, seven blocks and five service aces.
The Bison (24-14) played Penn St.-Berks (25-9) in the NEAC championship game after the Nittany Lions' defeat of Keuka College (18-10). The championship contest between the Bison and Nittany Lions was a match between co-champions of the South Division. The last time the two teams met was at Gallaudet on October 16 when the Nittany Lions handed the Buff and Blue their only conference loss of the regular season (26-28, 25-14, 26-24, 16-25, 13-15).
GU avenged that loss with a hard-fought four-set win for the conference title (25-27, 25-12, 25-14, 25-18) at Keuka College's Weed Physical Arts Center. Johnson once again commanded the offense with a game-high 41 assists, 13 digs and four assisted blocks. Fellow NEAC first-team all-conference member sophomore outside hitter Mari Klassen (White Rock, British Columbia) had a game-high 16 kills, seven digs and three service aces. Ann Whited (Fishers, Ind.), who also was named to the first team all-conference, had a great all-around match with 10 kills, nine digs and two service aces. Junior libero Micaela Paulone (Fishers, Ind.) headed the defensive effort with a game-high 24 digs and two service aces. Second team all-conference recipient sophomore middle hitter Jessica Israel (Frederick, Md.) stood tall at the net with 12 kills and four assisted blocks.
Penn St.-Berks held an early advantage with a win in the first set but couldn't hold on. Glenda Ngo distributed a team-high 30 assists, while Jerica Detsch added a team-high 11 kills and 22 digs in the contest for the Nittany Lions.
The Bison advanced to the NEAC championship game by defeating State University of New York Institute of Technology (SUNYIT) 3-1 in the semifinals (25-17, 25-14, 20-25, 25-20) earlier in the day. Johnson led the Buff and Blue with 36 assists, 10 digs and four service aces. Whited contributed a team-high 18 kills in the victory, along with a team-high 53 total attempts and 10 digs. Klassen added eight kills, eight service aces, and 12 digs. Paulone led the Bison with 17 digs in the win. SUNYIT (21-11) junior Juleah Vedder had 23 kills, 14 digs and three service aces in the loss. Kaitlyn Harrington added 13 kills and 18 digs.
The win marks the seventh time in program history that the Bison have reached the NCAA tournament and the first time since 2006. Gallaudet holds a 3-6 record in the tournament during its appearances (1985, '96, '99, 2003, '05, and '06). This marks the Bison's third NCAA appearance under head coach Lynn Ray Boren, who is in his sixth season at the helm.
The NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Committee will select the 63 teams and announce the brackets on Monday, November 8, on a webcast on www.ncaa.com at 11 a.m. The regional competitions will be held from November 12-14. The championship finals will be held November 19-21 at Washington University Field House in St. Louis, Mo.