Cardinals Volleyball Headed to NCAA Championship for Fourth Year in a Row
Posted Nov 13, 2023
Saturday’s Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament Championship match evolved into a two-hour marathon in the Rike Center, giving every volleyball fan in attendance the full price of admission (and then some) with it all on the line. It ended with the newly crowned OAC champion team from Otterbein earning a spot in the NCAA Championships for the fourth year in a row. Otterbein will play the University of La Verne out of California on Thursday, Nov. 16.
Top-seeded Otterbein, playing in its fifth-straight title match, took every punch from No. 3 seed Mount Union across a five-set thriller to crown the league’s annual champion. By the time the final point was secure, Otterbein managed to stand on top by final counts of 29-27, 18-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-11.
The Cardinals (23-8) earn the OAC’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Division III Championships as a result and will participate in the ‘Big Dance’ for the fourth year in a row.
A collective effort by all Cardinals helped notch the program’s third OAC Tournament crown in four years, with a trio of All-Tournament Team members (Olivia Vitaz, Amanda Troyer and MVP Kennedy Hoffman) leading the way.
Upset-minded Mount Union, fresh off a thrilling comeback at Marietta in the semifinals, nearly put Otterbein in the hole early with leads of 23-21, 24-23 and 26-25. But the Cards fended off those latter set points to steal the game, punctuated on a service ace by Vitaz.
The Purple Raiders shrugged off that temporary disappointment to control most of the second set, including a big 8-0 run midway through to seize a 22-13 lead and quickly even the match. Otterbein handed that medicine right back in the third. The home side clung to an 18-17 cushion before five-consecutive points allowed for needed breathing room.
Mount Union hung tough every step of the way in the fourth, opening a 20-15 lead before the hard-charging Cardinal deadlocked matters at 21-21. The visitors weathered that mini push to stay alive, ultimately capping the frame on back-to-back kills from standout Heaven Bartell.
Otterbein went to a winner-take-all fifth set (race to 15) for just the fourth time all year, and lost three early points before regrouping to force ties at 7-7 and 10-10. The Cards won three-straight points from there behind a kill from Vitaz and two more from Morgan Hartman. Championship point would eventually be cemented on a block assist from Vitaz and Kristen Scherger.
Hoffman, swinging all throughout the match, delivered a memorable performance with a career-high 27 kills across 62 total attempts. That effort marks the third most in a single-match for Otterbein since the NCAA switched to rally scoring in 2001. As a result, Hoffman was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament while also factoring in her match-best 14 kills in the semis.
Otterbein, a Top-15 offense nationally, tallied 76 smacks altogether and saw four with double-digit kills. Hartman caught a grove late to finish with an 21 while Madison McCoy hit 11-2-29 (310) and Kristen Scherger added 10.
Vitaz sent around a new career-best 49 assists for an offense that still managed to hit .218 despite some long points and exchanges. Libero Amanda Troyer had 34 digs in the back, Hartman tied her season-best with 17, and Grace Ganz/Makenzie Schellenberger both added 12. Hartman has now posted nine-straight matches with 10+ digs.
Bartell chalked up 21 kills for a very live Mount Union team, with high-riser Darby Leininger ripping off another 17 on the outside. The Raiders, a Top-10 defensive team in the country, dug so many ropes from the Cardinals behind the efforts of Casey Kildow (28) and Melissa Hansen (20).