The 18th-ranked Gustavus volleyball team saw its 11-match winning streak come to an end as No. 6 St. Thomas defeated the Gusties 3-1 (20-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-25) in the MIAC Playoff Championship on Saturday night in St. Paul. Olivia Warren (Fy., Goodhue, Minn.), Meghan Gehring (Jr., Eau Claire, Wis.), and Angela Ahrendt (Fy., Shoreview, Minn.) tallied 12 kills each during the match, but it would not be enough as the Tommies’ Katie McCaffrey posted a double-double with 20 kills and 11 blocks. Nicki Ainsworth (So., Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Gehring were also named to the six-member MIAC Playoffs All-Tournament team.
Head Coach Kari Eckheart’s squad jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead after kills from Britta Bolm (Sr., Alexandria, Minn.), Nicki Ainsworth, and Meghan Gehring before St. Thomas tied the score at 11-11. As the teams engaged in a back-and-forth battle, the Tommies created a gap with a 7-2 run to close out the set 25-20 as a result of Gustavus hitting miscues.
The second and third sets proved to be equally tense in the see-saw affair as both sets moved into the latter stages. However, as in the first set, the teams distanced themselves from their opponents. In the second set, St. Thomas went on a 3-0 run with the score tied at 21-21 before taking the second set 25-22 behind the play of McCaffrey. It was the Gusties’ turn to go on a scoring run late in the third set for a 24-21 lead. The Tommies pulled to within 24-23 before an Ainsworth kill forced a fourth set at 25-23.
St. Thomas used its experience to race out to a 14-5 early in the fourth set with a trio of kills from Kyley Crotty and Katie McCaffrey. The deficit was too much for Gustavus to overcome as the Tommies clinched the championship by winning the deciding set 25-15.
Besides double-digit kills from Ahrendt, Gehring, and Warren, Ainsworth contributed eight kills and Bolm added six. Bridget Burtzel (Sr., Cold Spring, Minn.) dished out 46 assists in the losing effort. Both squads finished the match with 93 digs as St. Thomas was paced by Katie Kremer at 35 digs and Gustavus was led by Emily Klein at 27 digs. The Tommies also held a 15-9 advantage in blocks.
Gustavus, which fell to 26-4 overall, will await word from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee on Monday morning if it makes the national tournament. St. Thomas received the MIAC’s automatic bid into the national tournament with the win and improved to 28-2 on the season. Besides the Tommies, the conference is expected to have one to three teams earn at-large bids.