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Titans Upset Eagles In WIAC Championship Opener

Renee Rush tallied 13 kills in hitting .379 against the Eagles.
Renee Rush tallied 13 kills in hitting .379 against the Eagles.

Renee Rush led all players with 13 kills on .379 hitting as UW-Oshkosh secured a historic 3-1 victory over UW-La Crosse during the first round of the WIAC Women's Volleyball Championship (Presented by Culver's) on Tuesday (Oct. 30) in La Crosse. The sixth-seeded Titans upset the third-seeded Eagles in set scores of 20-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-19.

UW-Oshkosh (17-14) not only snapped its six-match losing streak to defending WIAC postseason champion UW-La Crosse, but the Titans also became the first sixth seed to win a match at the WIAC Championship since 1997. Sixth-seeded teams are now 6-36 at the league tournament since 1988.

UW-Oshkosh advances to play at second-seeded UW-Whitewater (23-6) during the tournament's semifinal round Thursday (Nov. 1). Thursday's other semifinal matchup features top-seeded UW-Eau Claire (27-3) hosting fifth-seeded UW-Stevens Point (18-15), which won its first round contest, 3-1, at fourth-seeded UW-Stout (16-13) on Tuesday.

Entering Tuesday's meeting, UW-Oshkosh had not won at UW-La Crosse since 2014. The Eagles had eliminated the Titans from the WIAC Championship during the semifinal round the previous two seasons and last lost a league postseason match to the Titans in the 2008 semifinals.

Tina Elstner added 11 kills in UW-Oshkosh's win Tuesday. Carly Lemke and Taylor Allen chipped in nine and six kills, respectively, as the quartet of Allen, Elstner, Lemke and Rush combined for 39 of the team's 50 terminations and attacked at a .308 collective rate.

UW-Oshkosh's Rachel Gardner amassed 30 digs for her 28th double-digit dig performance of the season. Elstner had nine digs and two of the team's four service aces.

Emma Kiekhofer dished out 20 assists while co-directing the UW-Oshkosh offense with Rebecca Doughty, who contributed 16 assists.

UW-Oshkosh finished the match with advantages in kills (50-46), hitting percentage (.254 to 141), digs (67-65) and blocks (10-8). The Titans have now hit better than .230 in three of the last four matches and seven times overall this season. UW-Oshkosh also amassed 10 or more blocks for the eighth time this year.

The Titans hit .310 in the second set, .458 during the third frame and .250 in the fourth.

UW-La Crosse, which held a 6-4 edge in service aces, went into the match pacing the WIAC with 19.22 digs (16-13) and 1.86 service aces per set.

The first set was tied on 12 occasions until UW-La Crosse reclaimed the lead for good at 16-15 following a kill from Emma Lawrence. The Eagles extended their advantage to 19-15 and led by at least three points for the remainder of the set.

UW-Oshkosh never trailed in the second or third sets. The Titans jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the second set on the strength of four Elstner kills, a pair of terminations from Lemke and a block by Allen. Elstner recorded a service ace for a 17-10 lead, and a Rush kill provided UW-Oshkosh a 19-12 advantage. UW-La Crosse cut its deficit to 20-15, but the Titans responded with the last five points of the set on a kill by Shelby Coron, three straight Eagle errors and a solo block from Allen on set-point.

The Titans tallied the first three points of the third set before upping their advantage to 14-6 as Lemke accounted for five kills over the first 19 points of the frame. A kill from Allen and a double-block by Allen and Samantha Jaeke on consecutive points gave the Titans a 20-10 lead. Rush later notched a pair of kills as UW-Oshkosh led by at least nine points for the rest of the set.

UW-La Crosse held early leads in the fourth set, but Rush crushed three straight kills to provide the Titans their first and only advantage they needed during the frame. A Jaeke kill knotted the score at 7 before Rush's first of three consecutive terminations, including two on blistered overpasses, gave the Titans the lead for good. The Eagles pulled within 14-13 until a string of five unanswered points increased UW-Oshkosh's lead to 19-13. The five-point surge was highlighted by kills from Elstner and Rush, a service ace from Elstner, and a solo block by Jaeke. Leading 23-19, a pair of kills by Elstner concluded the contest.

Lawrence paced UW-La Crosse with 10 kills.

Abbey Fox had a match-high 39 assists for the Eagles, who also received 19 digs and three service aces from Julia Van Fleet, and five blocks by Kathryn Maas.

UW-Oshkosh, which owns a 37-34 record at the WIAC Championship, will attempt to become the second sixth seed, and the first since 1989, to win two matches at the conference tournament when it travels to UW-Whitewater on Thursday. The Warhawks are ranked 18th in the NCAA Division III by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Photo courtesy of Jim Lund

2018 WIAC Women's Volleyball Championship Website