Historic season ends in NCAA Tournament five-set thriller

Courtney Crawford attack

ATLANTA – A historic season for the Hanover volleyball team came to an end Thursday afternoon, as the team fell in five sets to Berry (Ga.) during the NCAA Division III National Tournament opening round, hosted by Emory (Ga.).

The Panthers (26-6), who were making just their second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, dropped the opening two sets, 25-22 and 27-25, before rallying to take the next two frames, 25-22 and 25-19. In the fifth and decisive set, it was Berry (29-6) that jumped out to an early lead, which ultimately was too much to overcome for the Blue and Red.

Two Panthers finished with double-digit kills, including senior Courtney Crawford (Louisville, Ky.), who led the squad with 11. Junior Margo Main (Ann Arbor, Mich.) added 10 kills over the five-set thriller.

Three more seniors pitched in with at least seven kills in Kristin Goben (Finchville, Ky.), Emily Ertel (North Vernon, Ind.) and Kelsey Brandvik (Indianapolis, Ind.). Goben, who was hobbled by an injury in the first set, bounced back with five of her eight kills in the second game.

In a matchup featuring two of the top three teams in the country in blocking, the Vikings held a slight edge, 13-11. Crawford and Main led the way for HC, as both front line players recorded four total blocks.

In the backrow, senior Monique Huynh (Indianapolis, Ind.) paced the Panthers with 24 digs. Goben also pitched in defensively with 15 digs.

Juniors Haley Alexander (Martinsville, Ind.) and Abby Crump (Indianapolis, Ind.) combined for 47 of the team's 53 assists. Alexander led the team with 25, while she and Crump combined for 17 digs as well.

Hanover took an early advantage in the opening set, as junior Claire Dennis (Bloomington, Ind.) posted two kills during HC's 3-1 run. Ultimately, Berry would rebound from the early deficit and take an 18-10 lead. The Blue and Red came firing back, pulling within one point, 22-21. A few short scoring spurts by the Vikings however gave them the set, 25-22.

The Panthers conceded seven of the first nine points in the second set, but rallied to tie the frame at 24-all. Despite a combined eight kills from Goben and Brandvik in the set, HC fell 27-25.

Trailing in sets, 2-0, HC found itself on the verge of defeat, trailing 22-20 in the third game. The Panthers kept their season alive however, by taking five of the final seven points, winning 25-22. Hanover forced the Vikings into a .000 hitting percentage in the third game.

The come-from-behind victory provided Hanover with the momentum it needed in the fourth frame, as they controlled throughout, winning 25-19, forcing a fifth and final set. Hanover used an 8-1 run in the middle of the set to help secure the win.

Berry opened the final game on a 4-1 scoring run, a spurt which ultimately led to eight of the first 10 points for the Vikings. Hanover was unable to bounce back from another early deficit, falling 15-3.

The Panthers' historic season concludes with 26 wins, which ties a program high under head coach Peter Preocanin. Thursday's match also marked Hanover's first two NCAA Tournament set victories.

Hanover's five seniors have finished their careers with an overall record of 92-40 (.697), while also tallying a 33-3 (.917) mark in conference play. The Panthers have won 27 consecutive HCAC regular season matches.

Contact: Tyler Jester