One point at a time.
Richard Stockton College women's volleyball coach Allison Walker repeated those words to her team down the stretch of the Ospreys' NCAA Division III tournament first-round match Friday at Salisbury University in Maryland.
Walker's team rallied to beat Johns Hopkins (19-4) 3-2. The set scores were 19-25, 25-15, 21-25, 25-23, 16-14. Stockton had lost its last five NCAA games.
"That's exactly what they did - focused on one point at a time and they were determined not to let any balls hit the floor," Walker, who is in her seventh season as the Ospreys' coach, said by phone Friday night. "It was a tight match the entire time and we were down quite a few points in the last game. So to come back and fight through that and win, it was a sweet, sweet victory - the sweetest of my coaching career."
The match ended on junior setter Mayan Alvarado's dig. It was her match-high 17th. Walker said the team, especially Alvarado, worked diligently on its defense to prepare for Johns Hopkins' offensive style. Alvarado added a match-high 26 assists.
"Her play was huge," Walker said. "She was an animal out there on the floor, and her defense matched her offense. She really stood out as the quarterback of the team tonight."
Junior right-side hitter Nicole Serekian also played a crucial role. As the Ospreys (28-6) faced elimination down 23-22 in the fourth set, Serekian slammed three straight kills to force the fifth and final set. Serekian and senior middle hitter Stephanie Warner each posted a match-high 22 kills, both career highs. Serekian also contributed three service aces.
"It was awesome because our whole team had everything together during that," Serekian said about the crucial sequence in the fourth set. "Our passing was great and our setting was on point, which makes everything easy. And to get those kills, was the (icing on the cake)."
Freshman Macy Schwartz posted six blocks, and the unsung hero of the night, and for the season Walker said, is Ashley Gubista.The sophomore libero contributed with 12 digs, but more importantly, she fueled Stockton's offense.
With the Ospreys facing elimination again in fifth set and trailing 14-12, Warner recorded a kill and by Gubista followed with an ace to tie at it 14-all. A hitting error by Johns Hopkins gave Stockton the lead, followed by Alvarado's game winning dig.
"She holds it down in the back court and keeps us in games by playing amazing defense, which gives us the opportunity to play the offense that we run. She puts the ball right in the setters' hands out of serve-receive," Walker said. "I would give her a lot of credit tonight because she barely gets recognized."
Warner, a four-year starter, has been waiting since her freshman year to advance in the tournament. Meanwhile, Walker has been waiting her entire coaching career at Stockton. They, along with the rest of the team, finally get that opportunity today as the Ospreys face host Salisbury (35-3) in the Mid-Atlantic Regional semifinals at 6 p.m. Stockton swept the Sea Gulls 3-0 in October. Salisbury, ranked 14th nationally in Division III in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, is the favorite to win the region.
Walker said her team caught Salisbury off guard in their previous meeting and can't be overconfident going into today's match.
"We just need to work hard for every point," Walker said. "We have to believe that we are just as good as they are and that we can steal this win."
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