Months from now, when the Royals look back on 2018, they may just say that Friday was a turning point in their season.
EMU's volleyball men locked up with two nationally ranked teams in Yoder Arena, taking a convincing 3-1 win over CVC rival No. 10 Juniata before an impressive 3-2 loss to No. 4 UC Santa Cruz. The win over JC not only gave the men a seven-match winning streak, it more importantly pushed them into first place in the CVC West with a 5-1 record. UC Santa Cruz, one of the premier programs in D-III, ended that winning streak in the non-conference clash, but Eastern Mennonite proved they could play with the big boys.
The Royals (12-4) return the home court just over 12 hours after the UC Santa Cruz match, hosting Marymount University in a key CVC match at 11:00am on Saturday. The Saints, ranked in No. 5 in the nation, are 3-1 in the league play after suffering their first loss at Southern Virginia Friday night.
EMU 3, No. 10 Juniata 1
The Royals were ready from the start against Juniata, hitting.325 as a team while the defense frustrated All-CVC hitter Quinn Peterson all match. The men used a 6-0 run to break off an 8-8 tie and then held off a late JC run to win 25-23.
They never trailed in the second set, and didn't let up at the end, winning 25-20 on a service ace from Tim Callahan (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin).
EMU held a small margin much of the third set before a late 4-0 run from the Eagles gave them a 23-22 lead. A Dan Lutz (Greencastle, Pa./Greencastle-Antrim) kill tied it at 23-23, but JC scored the next two to stay alive, 25-23.
The momentum seemed to carry early, as the Juniata skipped to a 4-1 lead. But the Royals exploded for a 6-0 run to take over. The team traded leads before kills from William Ragland (North Chesterfield, Va./Thomas Dale) and Callahan pushed EMU to match point at 24-22. Juniata got one point before a service error unceremoniously ended the match in a 25-23 decision.
EMU's outsides were dynamic, combining to hit .391. Callahan led the way with 11 kills and no errors over the first sets. He finished with 17 kills and a .452 clip, as well as a match best four service aces. Ragland also landed 17 kills, including seven in the final set. Travis Abele (Mechanicsville, Va./Lee-Davis) was right behind with 13 kills. Setter Christian Taylor (Richmond, Va./Deep Run) did a masterful job of running the offense with 44 assists.
Defensively, Lutz had four blocks. Micah Buller (Richmond, Va./Douglas Freeman) racked up 15 digs in the back row, while Ragland added 10 and Abele had nine.
Peterson finished with 14 kills to lead Juniata, but he hit just .184 while making six of JC's 15 service errors.
No. 4 UC Santa Cruz 3, EMU 2
The match with the Banana Slugs was characterized by two talented squads taking their best shots at each other, giving the crowd of 263 a treat to watch. The Royals worked to a 17-13 lead in the opener before UC Santa Cruz rattled off five straight to get in front. EMU forced a handful of ties, before the visitors won, 25-23.
The Banana Slugs zipped to an 8-2 lead in the second before the men settled down. Still trailing 17-14, the Royals got a couple of kills out of the middle to start a 4-0 spurt for the lead. The score was tied at 18s, 19s and 20s before Eastern Mennonite closed on a 5-1 run to win, 25-21.
UC Santa Cruz used a 4-0 run midway through the third to gain control, but still had to score the final three to sneak out a 25-21 decision.
The Banana Slugs had another 4-0 jab in the fourth to get in front, but the teams went back-and-forth until UCSC led 23-22. Ragland hammered a kill, tying the score and triggering a quick 3-0 run to win 25-23 and force a fifth set.
EMU seemed to run out of gas by the fifth, where UC Santa Cruz jumped to a 5-1 lead and never looked back in a 15-8 final.
Abele set career highs with 19 kills on 51 attacks, while Callahan put down 17 kills on 59 swings. They each added 12 digs.
Ragland had 12 kills with 14 digs and Lutz also made double figures with 10 kills. Taylor put up a season high 53 assists. He and the two middles, Lutz and R.J. Ocampo (Virginia Beach, Va./First Colonial), each had three blocks.
Buller again led the back row with 17 digs.
Lake Merchen was a mover for the Banana Slugs, racking up 23 kills and 21 digs. Raymond Cascio added 15 kills out of the middle.