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Tremendous season ends for RU volleyball in NCAA first round

530013_437485132944537_279580370_n-1MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Radford’s magical season came to an end Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship as No. 10 national seed Minnesota used powerful hitting and superior serving to earn a 3-0 (25-11, 25-19, 25-8) victory over the Highlanders in front of 1,959 fans at the Sports Pavilion.
Radford ends its season at 25-10, which is its best record since 2000, when the Highlanders finished 28-7. Coincidentally, it was the last time RU advanced to the “Big Dance.” Minnesota (28-6) moves on to the second round where it will face Colorado, which defeated Iowa State in four sets earlier in the day, at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

Emma Deininger hammered a team-best eight kills for the Highlanders. The junior middle blocker finished with a .400 hitting percentage on 15 swings. She also served up Radford’s only ace.

Rachel Wiechecki, the Big South Player of the Year, slammed seven kills and racked up six digs. On the defensive side, Kelby Jackson tallied a team-high nine digs. At the net, Cheyanne James led the way with three blocks.

All-Big Ten honoree Tori Dixon recorded a match-high 12 kills on 17 swings for a .706 attack clip to guide the Gophers’ attack. Daly Santana was right behind with eight kills. The sophomore outside hitter wrecked havoc with her jump serve, contributing five aces. Ashley Wittman, another All-Big Ten performer for Minnesota, collected a match-best 16 digs.

Three players hit over .700 for Minnesota in the opening set to lift the hosts to a 25-11 win. The Gophers hit .500 as a team and were led by Wittman’s five kills. Deininger hit .750 in leading the Radford attack with three kills.

The Highlanders’ defense rose to the challenge in the second stanza, holding Minnesota to just .195 on the attack. After falling behind 11-7, a Savannah Cantrell kill initiated a 4-0 run to tie the frame. The Gophers found their rhythm, however, to claim the set, 25-19. Wiechecki paced the RU offense with five kills, while James contributed six digs for the defense.

Already ahead 8-1 in the third set, Santana went on a torrid streak at the service line, delivering six-straight points for Minnesota. The Highlanders never recovered from their deficit as they dropped the final frame, 25-8. The Gophers hit .478 and produced four aces, while Dixon led the way, individually, with five kills.

Although Radford’s tremendous run came to a halt, the Highlanders have a great deal to look forward to in 2014 as they welcome back 16 from its current roster next fall.