No. 20 Transylvania volleyball’s 2019 NCAA tournament dance ends in second round in four-set showdown against No. 1 Emory

Wills serving up a shot

Atlanta, Ga. – Waging an inspiring and compelling fight against the No. 1 team in the country and reigning national champions, the No. 20 Transylvania volleyball team was eliminated in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Division III Volleyball Tournament by the Emory University Eagles, three sets to one at the Woodruff P.E. Center at Emory University on Saturday evening.

Emory staged a comeback win in set one with a 25-20 victory before the Pioneers answered back with a powerful 25-21 win in the second set. Emory staved off the Pioneers 25-21 and 25-20 in the final two sets to advance into Sunday's Atlanta Regional final against Colorado College.

The Pioneers' winningest season in program history came to an end with a program-record 28 wins against five losses for their best single-season winning percentage (.848).

Transylvania's first-ever foray into the NCAA Tournament entailed a tournament-opening win on Friday versus Birmingham-Southern before conceding to the Eagles in the third matchup between the teams over the last three seasons. Emory improved its record to 31-2 on the year as the Eagles continued defense of their 2018 national championship.

After sweeping the Pioneers in early regular-season meetings in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Pioneers unleashed their full attack against the Eagles, scoring the first five points of the night before Emory gradually worked its way into the match, grinding out the Pioneers over four arduous sets.

The Pioneers used a 5-0 opening boost to stake their claim to a promising night and later claimed a 7-2 lead on kills from Emmie Bender and Jordan Horne. Emory shook off a slow start, scoring five straight points to tie up the Pioneers at 8-8. Transylvania swung right back with four consecutive points on the way to a 14-9 advantage. Emory then scored on a pivotal block to spur an 8-0 run for a go-ahead 17-14 lead in the set. Transylvania inched back at 18-16 on a kill from Ellie Stigger but the Eagles came up with a flurry of left-side kills to seal up a 25-20 opening-set win.

Transylvania not only responded with force but dictated the ensuing set as the Pioneers unleashed a .405 hitting percentage in the second set to catalyze a marvelous finish. Trailing 6-4, Transy leaned upon three kills in four points from Taryn Glass to claim a 9-6 advantage. Glass and Horne continued to throttle the Eagles on the way to a 15-8 lead. Emory made another comeback, gradually cutting the Pioneer lead to 22-21, but Adeline Tonn and Bender made key plays down the stretch to lead the Pioneers to their first-ever set victory over Emory.

The third set hung in the balance as both teams jousted for momentum deep into the set. The Pioneers collected a match-best three aces in the set to further amplify their push. With the set tied at 16-all, Talkers served up an ace and Tonn delivered a ferocious kill to go ahead 18-16. But the Eagles rallied back with six straight points to claim a 22-18 cushion. The Pioneers closed within two points at 23-21 following an ace from Sylvie Miller, but Emory held off the Pioneers to win the set by four.

The Eagles made the fourth set the final frame of the year for Transylvania as they erased a 6-5 deficit with a string of five straight scores to seize a 10-6 advantage. The Pioneers made one final rally with five points in six rallies down the stretch, but the Eagles finished off the night with a 25-20 win.

Talkers fashioned one final all-around performance in her collegiate finale with a team-high 36 assists and 20 digs, adding three kills, one block, and one ace in the NCAA Tournament match. Glass finished off her career with a 13-kill and two-block output. Horne led the Pioneers with 14 kills and powered in eight digs and one block. Ellie Stigger had a team-high five blocks along with seven kills for a .261 hitting percentage. Sylvie Miller had 14 digs while Abby Wills wrapped up a 1,000-plus dig career for the Pioneers with a 10-dig night to go with an ace and an assist.

The unprecedented trek for the Transylvania volleyball team signifies the 2019 season as the most successful campaign for the Pioneers in their 18-year program history. Along with the 28-5 ledger, the Pioneers stamped their imprint on a plethora of new achievements, including defeating three top-25 teams, entering the AVCA Top 25 rankings for the first time in program history, going undefeated through the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season and winning the conference tournament championship, clinching their first NCAA Tournament berth, and winning their first NCAA Tournament match. The season fittingly ends with the emerging Pioneers juxtaposed with the two-time national champion Emory in a fierce battle on the incumbent's homecourt.

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