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Published: Saturday, 11/18/2006

Rockets, Falcons advance to MAC tourney semis

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Madeline Means takes aim at the ball before she nails a spike for Bowling Green State University
in its match yesterday at the SeaGate Centre against Ball State. Madeline Means takes aim at the ball before she nails a spike for Bowling Green State University in its match yesterday at the SeaGate Centre against Ball State.
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Bowling Green's Stephanie Swiger said the Falcons will be on guard this evening when they take on rival Toledo in the semifinal round of the Mid-American Conference volleyball tournament.

"They're a team that you can't count out of anything," Swiger said of the Rockets. "They've proved they can pull the upset."

Have they ever.

The Rockets did it again yesterday, ambushing the tournament's No. 2 seed, Northern Illinois, and MAC player of the year Kate McCullagh for a five-game victory: 30-24, 30-27, 16-30, 23-30, 15-13.

UT, which was seeded 10th before going on the road in last Tuesday's first round to bump off No. 7 Central Michigan, will face BG today at 5 p.m. in the SeaGate Centre.

The Falcons advanced with a fairly dominating three-game sweep of Ball State, 30-11, 30-26, 30-16.

BG (25-5) may be among the conference's volleyball elite, but Toledo (11-20) isn't inclined to go quietly. The Rockets have won four straight, and five of their last six matches.

"I've never seen so many momentum swings in a season," said Toledo setter Emi Holsclaw, who had 61 assists and chipped in with 17 digs.

That would pretty much describe yesterday's win, as well.

The Rockets played two of their best games of the year to take a 2-0 lead.

Then, after being outclassed in the next two games, "we knew it was the final straw and we just played our hearts out," said Holsclaw.

UT opened up a 20-15 lead in the first game before Kate Bean, who had a sensational match with 22 kills and the same number of digs, went on a hitting barrage to bump the advantage to 25-18. Sarah Kreher chipped in with two late kills, one on a Northern Illinois overpass, to sew up the victory.

Shannon Strachan had four of her 15 kills in the latter stages of the second game and provided UT's last two points for a close win.

NIU (20-9) then won the next two games with Northview product Meagan Schoenrock, a freshman, doing most of the damage. She finished the match with a team-high 20 kills.

"The first two games, we showed up big, but Northern Illinois picked its game up and we had to stay emotional and get the momentum back," said Bean, who got UT started in the fifth game with three early kills.

At the end, though, Toledo setter Holsclaw was loading up Strachan to put it away. The Rockets trailed 13-12 before Strachan, a sophomore from Illinois, scored the final three points of the game, the first on a block and the next two on decisive kills.

"I thought Shannon was hot and cold, but when she was hot she was fantastic," said UT coach Kent Miller.

"I've struggled at times," said Strachan, "but when the setter believes in you like that it sure builds confidence."

BG, meanwhile, got all the confidence it needed with a blowout win in Game 1 of its match against Ball State (13-17). The Falcons scored 12 of the first 15 points in that game, then got big swings from Swiger whenever they were challenged in a tighter second game.

"We think our offense and blocking are our biggest assets," Swiger said. "We wanted to put pressure on them at the net from the moment we walked on the court."

Kendra Halm joined Swiger in dominating at the net in Game 3, which was never close after BG jumped to a 6-0 lead. The Falcons were fired up by five blocks in the last game alone.

"The first game was awesome," said BG coach Denise Van De Walle. "Everything was so crisp and sharp during just about the whole match and our defense was outstanding. The blocks are huge. It's exciting on our side of the net and very deflating for [opposing] hitters."

In other tournament play yesterday afternoon, Western Michigan defeated Miami 26-30, 30-26, 30-24, 30-23.

Last night Ohio University defeated Eastern Michigan 26-20, 30-18, 30-26, 29-36, 15-10.

Western Michigan will meet Eastern Michigan in semifinal action at 7:30 tonight at SeaGate Centre.

NOTES: Three Falcons - Swiger, Halm, and setter Chrissy Gothke, who is BG's only senior - were named first team All-MAC while hitter Madeline Means earned second-team honors.

Ellen Herman, a Central Catholic graduate playing for Ohio, was named MAC freshman of the yar and earned first team all-league honors. So did Jenifer Sulewski of Western Michigan, who is from Bedford High. Eastern Michigan's Kate Sulewski, also from Bedford, joined NIU's Schoenrock on the second team. The latter also joined Herman on the all-freshman team.

SHE'S NO. 1: Bowling Green sophomore libero Chelsey Meek had a match-high 24 digs against NIU, giving her a single-season school record of 502 digs.

UT STUDENTS: Kelly Andrews, Toledo's associate athletic director, said the first 100 UT students with a school ID will be admitted free to tonight's semifinal game against BG.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398



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