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The Lakeland College women's volleyball team gave itself a shot at earning an at-large bid in this year's NCAA Tournament with a huge 3-0 win over Stevens Institute (30-27, 30-25, 31-29) on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the UW-Whitewater Tournament in Whitewater, Wis.
It was the second match of the day for the Muskies (20-14 overall), who dropped a close late morning match to Simpson, 3-0 (30-25, 30-26, 30-27).
Junior right side hitter Heidi Kramer and senior outside hitter Ashley Domask led the squad's offensive attack in the loss to Simpson with seven kills apiece. Sophomore defensive specialist Tonia Strebelinski and sophomore outside hitter Brittanie Paulus boosted the backcourt with 12 digs apiece.
Stevens (Hoboken, N.J.), who currently holds the No. 17 spot in the national Top 25 poll with a No. 1 ranking in the New York region, had lost only one match prior to this weekend's tournament.
"That win vastly increased our chances of making the NCAA Tournament," said head coach Chad Schreiber. "Beating a No. 1 team from another region is a huge feat. It's a huge monkey off our back to get a win over a nationally-ranked team, and it was great to end our regular season on a win."
Senior middle hitter Shelly Bruni agrees, citing strong defense and communication as key ingredients to the Muskies' victory.
"It felt so incredibly great," Bruni said of defeating Stevens. "We pulled together as a team, and just played awesome. We fixed some of the individual mistakes that we had been making earlier in the weekend, had more energy and just played better ball all around."
Lakeland also fought through tough matches with UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh, ranked ninth in the nation, during tournament play on Friday, falling 3-0 in both matches. However, the squad was able to learn and improve as the tournament progressed.
"Each match we played in, we got better," Schreiber said. "Against Platteville, we were able to eliminate our lulls, and Oshkosh was actually one of our better-played matches this year. In the Stevens match, the difference was that we had everyone making plays and contributing in different ways."
While the Muskies were fortunate to have such a strong, diverse attack to draw from, there were also a few individuals who made all the difference.
"Shelly Bruni continues to play incredibly well, and Jess Keller was a great substitution against Stevens," Schreiber said. "Our defensive effort was also strong overall, and Rachel Young's serving played a key role all weekend."
Bruni and Domask led the team in kills with 12 apiece, with Domask also shouldering the defensive load with a team-leading 15 digs. Bruni was also impressive on defense at the net, registering seven blocks.
Keller came off the bench in game two to knock down eight kills on a team-high .467 hitting, while senior defensive specialist Rachel Young gave the Muskies a major boost with five service aces.
Lakeland will continue match play on Tuesday, Oct. 30, as the No. 1 seeded Muskies host the opening round of the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament with No. 8 Edgewood College.
If Lakeland defeats Edgewood, it will face either No. 4 Concordia University Chicago or No. 5 Milwaukee School of Engineering on Thursday, Nov. 1, at home. The NAC Final will be played on Saturday, Nov. 3, at the home of the highest remaining seed.
"We now feel like the conference tournament means even more because we have to win conference to have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament," Schreiber said.
Match time with Edgewood is set for 7 p.m. in Lakeland's Moose and Dona Woltzen Gymnasium.