By Tim Glon
WESTERVILLE -- No. 20-ranked Ohio Northern needed five match points and a lucky bounce off the rafters, but persevered for a thrilling 25-19, 25-15, 17-25, 25-27, 17-15 victory over DePauw (Ind.) in the First Round of the NCAA III Volleyball Tournament at Otterbein's Rike Center on Friday afternoon.
The Polar Bears (28-5) advance to the Second Round on Saturday at 5 pm where they will face the winner of Friday night's match between No. 25 Otterbein and Cabrini (Pa.)
The Tigers end their season at 20-8.
Sophomore Chelsea Huppert (Bremen, Ind.) had 17 kills, sophomore McKenna Jordan (Toledo/Saint Ursula) had 16 kills and senior Haley Potters (Wheelersburg/South Webster) had 15 kills for Ohio Northern.
Senior Megan Nieszala (Lambertville, Mich./St. Marys Catholic) had 25 digs and freshman Katie Wade (Battle Creek, Mich./Harper Creek) dished out 51 assists and had 23 digs and sophomore Kristin Langston (Versailles) had 24 digs for the Polar Bears.
DePauw was led by Suzanne Potters with 20 kills.
"We grew as a team tonight," ONU head coach Kate Witte said. "It was a wild win. There were many crazy plays. But it was a big win for our young team and our program."
Potters got Ohio Northern off to a quick start with seven kills in the Set 1.
Leading 18-16, ONU went on a 5-1 run to grab a commanding 24-18 lead in the 25-19 opening set victory.
A 4-0 run gave Northern a 12-9 lead in Set 2. After DePauw tied the match at 13-all, a 7-0 Polar Bear run made it 20-13.
A 4-0 run pulled the Tigers within 20-17, but the Polar Bears would hang on for the 25-19 win.
DePauw got off to the quick start in set three, grabbing an early 10-4 lead. Northern pulled within four points on a couple of occasions but the Tigers cruised to the 25-17 win.
DU used an 8-2 run in Set 4 to take a commanding 18-11 advantage. Northern responded with a 10-3 run to pull within 22-21.
Northern grabbed a 25-24 lead on a kill by Huppert, an ace by Nieszala and a kill by Potters and had their first match point of the night, but the Tigers would score the final three points to win the set 27-25 and send the match to a fifth and deciding set.
Set five was an even affair until a 3-0 DePauw run gave the Tigers an 11-9 lead.
An ace by senior Brenna Dee (McComb) gave ONU a 13-12 lead and a block by Huppert and Wade made it 14-12.
DePauw fought off three more match points and tied the match at 15-all, but a kills by Jordan made it 16-15.
The Tigers appeared to have the match tied at 16-all, but a kill attempt ricocheted off Nieszala and bounced off an air duct hanging from the rafters and back into play, where Wade eventually sent a free ball back over the net. ONU then survived two DU kill attempts before Huppert's kill ended the match.
"Being a young team, it was nice to be playing in a gym that we are used to," Nieszala said. "We were really good at talking tonight, especially late in the match. It was crazy going after all the weird bounces and getting to balls that we might not have gotten on other nights. It feels great to get to play another day."
"We lost in the NCAAs last year by the same 17-15 score and I had one of the final swings in that match," Huppert said. "It was nice to get another chance at that and have a better result this year. We were playing for our three seniors. It is great to get them another chance to play."
Ohio Northern hit .195 for the match with 62 kills and 22 errors, while DePauw hit .193 with 66 kills and 26 errors.
"DePauw is a very good team," Witte said. "It is survive and advance in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn't matter how big of a margin or how many sets it takes. You win and move on. We have to rebound now both emotionally and physically to play another outstanding team tomorrow."
The Polar Bears improve to 36-29 all-time in their 30 NCAA Tournament appearances and snapped a string of three consecutive losses in the tournament. ONU's last tournament win prior to tonight was a 4-set victory over North Central (Ill.) in a 2009 run to the Sweet 16.
In other action in the NCAA Westerville Regional on Friday afternoon, No. 3 Wittenberg swept Penn State-Behrend and No. 19 Juniata (Pa.) defeated Brockport State (N.Y.) in four sets.
Wittenberg and Juniata will play in the first Second Round match on Saturday at 2:30 pm.