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Clarkson Returns To NCAA Volleyball Elite 8

POTSDAM – Freshman Kristin Werdine blasted a ball for one kill and then tipped one over the top of the block for the match-winner as the Clarkson University Volleyball team advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals with a five-set victory over Ithaca College in the Potsdam Regional Final on Sunday afternoon at Alumni Gymnasium.

The Golden Knights return to the NCAA's "Elite 8," their fifth time in the NCAA Quarterfinals and the first trip since 2015. The Green and Gold improved to 28-5 on the season with their seventh straight win, improving to 17-0 at home in 2019. Ithaca finished its season at 20-11.

The two teams were meeting for the third time in 24 days, all of which resulted in Clarkson wins. However, none of the matches were easy, as last week's Liberty League Championship required close to 30 extra points to be played with three sets going beyond the necessary tally. That only happened once on Sunday, though it was in the decisive fifth set.

In the first set, Clarkson played well in every aspect of the game, hitting .341 (16-2-41) and doing its normal stellar job on defense. The two teams were tied at 13-13, but Clarkson gained a four-point edge thanks to two attack errors and kills from Maddie Bredehoeft and Rachel Reusch. Though Ithaca would trim the margin to two on a couple of occasions, the Knights always seemed to have an answer to keep the Bombers at bay, and Clarkson picked up a 25-21 win in the first game.

Game two was a similar animal, as the teams were tied 12-12 before the Knights took advance of a Rachel Reusch kill and two attack errors to pick up a three-point lead. Ithaca would stop the rally and pull back within one on block assists from Alison Lipton and Jennifer Pitts, but the Knights responded with six straight points, with a Kristin Werdine ace making it 21-14. The Bombers were too far down to mount a legitimate comeback and Clarkson pushed its advantage to 2-0 with a six-point win.

The third set was All Ithaca, as the Bombers hit .286 and Clarkson's defense began to struggle to make consistent passes on serve receive. The fourth set was anyone's game, with Ithaca jumping out to a 5-1 but Clarkson tying it four points later. It would be the second of many ties in the set as the two teams exchanged points regularly. Ithaca led 17-14 late only to see the Knights score three straight for a ninth tie in the set. The teams tied again at 18, 19, 20, 21 and 23, but kills from Pitts and Reagan Stone evened the match at 2-2.

The fifth set appeared to be in Clarkson's hands near the midway point, as the Knights tallied five times in a six-point stretch for a 10-5 lead. Ithaca chipped away, tying the set at 11-11 and then again at 12-12. A kill from Maddie Bredehoeft and a solo block from Gillian Kurtic put Clarkson on the brink of another win, but kills from Stone and Lipton tied the game at 14-14. On the next serve, Clarkson handled the reception easily and put the ball to the pin for Kristin Werdine, who knocked down a kill off the block and into the net on Ithaca's side. With another match point, a long rally again went Clarkson's way, as Emma Baxter controlled an attack with an incredible dig and pass to the setter, with Werdine trying a softer shot off a set from Isabelle Crow, tipping it off the block and down for the match-winner.

Kate Isaksen was chosen as the Potsdam Regional's Most Outstanding Player, recording 37 of the team's 87 digs. Rachel Reusch knocked down 16 kills and both Gillian Kurtic and Kristin Werdine added 12 kills. Reusch also had five blocks and Werdine scored four aces. Isabelle Crow ran the offense with aplomb, assisting on 49 kills. Emma Baxter and Celestial Barrera-Lopez were also big in the back row with 14 and 12 digs, respectively.

For Ithaca, Reagan Stone notched 28 kills, Alison Lipton added 17 kills and Jennifer Pitts produced 11 kills with four blocks. Caitlyn Floyd found her hitters frequently, scoring 57 assists to go along with nine digs. Jordyn Lyn Hayashi added 30 digs and three aces.