By Blake Moore
ADA — For the 20th time in program history, the 20th-ranked Ohio Northern women's volleyball team has claimed the OAC Tournament title after defeating third-seeded Muskingum 3-1 in the OAC Tournament Finals held inside the ONU Sports Center in Ada Saturday afternoon.
With the victory, the Polar Bears climb to 22-7 overall on the season. Northern also secures a spot in their third consecutive NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Tournament with the Ohio Athletic Conference's automatic qualifying bid.
Meanwhile, Muskingum falls to 25-7 overall and finishes runner-up in the OAC Tournament for the seventh time in school history.
Ohio Northern would receive double-digit kill efforts from junior All-American Chelsea Huppert (Bremen, Ind.), junior outside hitter McKenna Jordan (Toledo/St. Ursula), freshman middle hitter Madi Ellis (Delphos/St. John's), and sophomore right-side hitter Paige Hartings (Coldwater) in the 25-16, 25-27, 25-21, and 25-16 victory.
Huppert led the way with 15 kills on a team-best .263 hitting percentage after surpassing the 1,000 career kill milestone in the semifinal round against Baldwin Wallace on Thursday. The junior would also produce a team-high five total blocks on the defensive side.
Jordan and Ellis were next with 13 and 11 kills, respectively. Jordan registered a .196 conversion rate and chipped in five digs while Ellis hit .258 and earned four total blocks.
Hartings registered a new career-best hitting effort, tallying 10 kills on a .172 attack percentage. The sophomore also added two digs and a pair of blocks.
Meanwhile, sophomore setter Katie Wade (Battle Creek, Mich./Harper Creek) posted her 27th career double-double and her second this week in the contest. She would dish out a match-high 47 assists and collect 14 digs.
Defensively, junior defensive specialist Madison Broering (Saint Henry) anchored the backline with a new career-best 34 digs. Classmate McKenna Hostetler (Plain City/Alder) joined Broering with 30-or-more digs after recording 31 in Saturday's affair.
After the match, ONU head volleyball coach Kate Witte stated, "I am pleased with the outcome. It was a challenge today because Muskingum has done a great job of growing and improving throughout the whole year. They were a hot team coming in, so we knew there was a huge battle in front of us."
Northern would get off to a quick start in set one, leading 10-3 after stringing together six straight points. The Muskies rallied back, however, pulling back to within two points on three separate occasions. The Polar Bears would take command of the set on a five-point run that extended the lead to 22-15 before a Muskingum error gave ONU the 1-0 match lead.
Muskingum would need extra points in the second frame to level the match. Following back-and-forth action throughout the stanza, Northern would lead 25-24. A kill from MU's Kaitlin Goedde would lead off a three-point stretch for the visitors to make it one-all heading to the third.
The 400 spectators inside the ONU Sports Center would be treated to more competitive play in a critical third set as the programs exchanged leads three times and drew level on eight different occasions. Jordan would pound a kill into the deep-right corner of the floor to put an exclamation point on the momentum-swinging frame and give the Polar Bears the lead once more.
Leading 16-14, Northern would begin to run away with the fourth set via a five-point run to make the lead seven. ONU fans were brought to their feet as one final four-point run, ending in a Muskingum attack error, would finish the match and give the program its second title in three seasons.
Witte remarked, "We are fortunate to win another tournament championship. I am very pleased and proud of our great effort, and now we are looking forward to the NCAA Tournament."
The Polar Bears will now turn their focus to the NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Tournament, set to begin next weekend. Ohio Northern will find out their tournament fate with the announcement of the championship field on Monday, November 8 with the annual NCAA Volleyball Selection Show at 12:30 p.m.