SIOUX CITY, IOWA – Biola University opened pool play at the 2013 NAIA Volleyball Championships with a victory over resilient Indiana Wesleyan Tuesday night at Tyson Event Center, dispatching the Wildcats 25-19, 25-17, 26-28 and 25-19.
Led by the balanced scoring trio of senior Chelsee Arnitz (16 kills), junior Amy Weststeyn (16) and sophomore Alyssa Mason (13), the Eagles picked up the victory as they make their seventh consecutive appearance at the National Championships.
"Every team is nervous in the opening round," said Head Coach Aaron Seltzer. "It's good to get that first win and move on."
Early on in the first set, the Wildcats matched the Eagles point for point, drawing even at 8-8 on a strong serve by senior defender Rebecca Brandes. Following an Arnitz kill, Biola went on a five point-run behind the serving of Mason, to take a 13-8 lead. IWU hung around, thanks in part to three service errors by the Eagles, and the lead was soon only two points, 18-16. Crissy Cunningham's serving, some timely blocks and two kills by Arnitz brought the Eagles to set point, which was won following a dig by Tara Rallis and a monster kill by Joclyn Kirton.
The second set nearly mirrored the first, as IWU used a kill by middle blocker Kristine Egebrecht and two attack errors by Biola to pull within one, 12-11. Again the No. 3 Eagles responded, capturing six of the next seven points to take a commanding 18-12 lead. A brief rally by the Wildcats was quickly extinguished by the offensive combination of Weststeyn and Mason, and Cunningham again served out for the win.
After folding down the stretch in the first two sets, IWU looked like a different team in set three. This time, the Wildcats responded to each Eagle rally, staved off two match points, and picked up the elusive win in extra points, 28-26.
"Indiana Wesleyan has a number of freshmen, and they looked nervous in the first two games," said Seltzer. "Then they started playing their game – they were scrappy, they scrambled, and they played a lot better in game three."
It didn't look that way at the start, as behind the serving of senior setter Gracee Gallarda, Biola jumped to a 5-1 lead. Just as quickly, IWU caught fire, running off six consecutive points and forcing Seltzer to call his first timeout of the evening.
"We were just making errors, lots of errors," he said.
The Eagles responded well, benefiting from kills by Kirton and fellow sophomore Britta Blaser. A 5-7 deficit turned into a 12-7 lead, and Biola seemed poised to complete a sweep of the Wildcats.
The Wildcats outscored Biola 15-6 over the next 10 minutes, scoring several points on kills and drop shots that went untouched by the Eagle defense. Suddenly on top 22-18, IWU seemed determined to close out the third set. But Biola had other ideas, forging a 24-24 tie. The Eagles followed with two match points at 25-24 and 26-25, but IWU kills gave the Wildcats new life and a Biola miss-hit on IWU's first set-point ended all hopes of a sweep.
At the start of set four, the teams were once again evenly matched. Though they never led, the Wildcats pulled within one at 9-8, but a save by Rallis and a kill by Weststeyn sent the Eagles on a run that iced the game.
A brief setback occurred when a rotation mistake took place in the Eagle backcourt, but Seltzer recognized the error and reported it. The result changed the score from 19-14 to an 18-15 Eagle lead, but Biola responded well in capturing seven of the last nine points to win the set and the match.
The Eagles are now 23-3 on the year, while IWU falls to 29-11.
Next up for Biola is local favorite No. 15 Dordt College, which won in a five set thriller vs. No. 10 Lindsey Wilson in the late match on Tuesday night. The Eagles oppose the Defenders on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. (PST).