UPLAND, Ind. -- No. 15-ranked Indiana Wesleyan University volleyball clinched a spot in the NAIA National Championship Tournament for only the second time in program history.
IWU earned the automatic bid courtesy of a 3-2 victory over No. 14-ranked Taylor (Ind.) University in the Mid-Central College Conference Tournament championship match in Upland, Indiana.
Indiana Wesleyan (34-4) won the exhilarating championship match in five games, four of which took extra points to determine a winner. IWU captured the win by scores of 26-24, 15-25, 27-29, 29-27, 17-15. The conference championship victory is the eighth in the last 10 years for IWU.
Indiana Wesleyan will now await the final coaches' poll and national tournament bracket on Sunday. The NAIA will release the Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball Coaches' Top-25 Poll by 2 p.m. ET and the bracket by 7 p.m. ET. The top-12 teams will earn automatic bids to the national tournament final site in Sioux City, Iowa on November 29-December 3. The other 24 teams will compete in on-campus matches in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round with the 12 winners advancing to Sioux City.
The Wildcats' only other appearance at the NAIA National Championship Tournament came in 2008, when Indiana Wesleyan upset Taylor in the MCC championship match to earn the automatic bid. IWU would lose 3-1 at Dordt (Iowa) College in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
On Saturday, Indiana Wesleyan won the opening match but Taylor responded with wins in the next two games to lead 2-1.
The Wildcats looked in serious trouble in game four, falling behind 8-2. The Trojans continued to hold a seemingly insurmountable lead of 15-8 and were just 10 points away from the conference title. But the Wildcats roared back with nine of the next 10 points to suddenly lead 17-16.
The rest of game four remained a one point contest with the exception of one serve when Indiana Wesleyan led 20-18. With the score tied 27-27, sophomore middle hitter Kristine Egebrecht and junior setter Yui Iwase blocked a Taylor attack to gain a game point at 28-27. Egebrecht would finish the game with a kill on the next serve for a 29-27 victory and even the match at 2-2.
The deciding fifth game was all Indiana Wesleyan in the beginning. IWU raced out to a 7-1 lead and increased it to 10-3. This game, Taylor would charge back. TU scored seven of the next eight points to close to within one at 11-10.
Taylor (29-7) eventually drew even at 14-14 for the first tie of the game. The final game was tied 15-15 when senior middle hitter Lauryn Barfell recorded a kill to give Indiana Wesleyan a match point opportunity. On the proceeding serve, senior outside hitter Peyton Thompson slammed one final kill to give Indiana Wesleyan a 17-15 win and the match victory.
Thompson's match-winning kill was her 26th on the night which tied her career-high that she set last Friday in the regular season finale versus Taylor. She had a .344 hitting percentage as well as five blocks.
Egebrecht contributed 17 kills with a .375 hitting percentage in addition to four blocks. Senior outside hitter Kate Denlinger added 14 kills, sophomore outside hitter Rae Brandes earned nine kills and Barfell contributed seven kills and five blocks.
Iwase totaled a double-double in the win with 67 assists and 14 digs. Senior libero Kelsey Masuda led all players with 32 digs and freshman Christi Benting tallied 18 digs.
Indiana Wesleyan increases its win streak to 16 in a row and the team has now won 28 of its last 29 matches.
Be sure to check iwuwildcats.com tomorrow for new information as Indiana Wesleyan learns its spot in the NAIA National Championship Tournament.