Cal State LA women’s volleyball team reigns supreme after capturing the first NCAA Division II championship in program history with another tremendous performance on December 9, at the UPMC Events Center on the campus of Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.
The Cal State LA Golden Eagles completed a near-flawless run to the national title with a four-set win over defending national champion West Texas A&M, 25-23, 25-16, 22-25, 25-14. National tournament Most Outstanding Player Emily Elliott capped an amazing Elite Eight with 27 kills, six aces and 34 points to lead the Golden Eagles, while Iane Henke, who earned All-Tournament honors, was also tremendous with 21 kills, one ace and 18 digs. The dynamic duo had 48 kills, which was one more than West Texas A&M had as a team.
The Golden Eagles’ first national title in volleyball is also the first for a women’s team sport at Cal State LA in the NCAA-era that started in 1982.
Cal State LA (24-10) entered the NCAA playoffs outside of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top-25, but beat six ranked teams to win the title, including wins over No. 3 Wayne State, No. 4 Missouri-St. Louis and No. 5 West Texas A&M at the Elite Eight. The Golden Eagles won the West Region with wins over No. 19 Seattle Pacific, No. 14 Chaminade and No. 10 Cal State San Bernardino.
The Golden Eagles won the title as a No. 6 seed by ending the title reign of No. 4 seed West Texas A&M, which had roared from behind to post a five-set semifinal win over No. 1 seed Tampa on Friday. The Golden Eagles, who swept No. 2 seed Missouri-St. Louis on Friday, picked up where they left off and took control of the championship match by taking the first two sets. After the Lady Buffs (33-4) took a contested third set, the Golden Eagles regained command in the fourth, fueled by Elliott, who had an ace during an early serving run that gave them a 7-3 lead and then had a kill and two aces during a seven-serve run that gave them a 20-9 lead and essentially put the match out of reach.
Elliott had 76 kills, 12 aces and 93 points in 12 sets during the tournament and was an obvious choice for the Most Outstanding Player. The first-team All-American and West Region and California Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year finished her junior season with a program-record 606 kills, shattering the previous mark of 575 set by Andrea Ferchaw in 1992. She also set a new program standard with 722.5 points. Elliott ended up leading the nation in total kills and points per set.
While she clearly played the leading role, Elliott had plenty of help on Saturday as the Golden Eagles were relentless. Henke was a powerful force all match and Haley Roundtree had six kills in 11 swigs to go along with two blocks. Ashley Dittmann also had six kills, including three in the final set. Eliza Cannon had 49 set assists.
Cal State LA had a strong serving advantage, recording 12 aces to just one for the Lady Buffs. Elliott had six aces, Brooke Paige had three aces, Jameson Sanders had two aces and Henke added one. The Golden Eagles’ exceptional serving kept West Texas A&M off balance for most of the match.
Cal State LA had a 62-47 kills advantage and outhit West Texas A&M .274-.246.
The Golden Eagles started well and broke an 18-18 tie after a kill by Roundtree and an ace by Elliott. Cal State LA took a 23-19 lead and had to fight off a West Texas A&M challenge late in the set. The Lady Bufffs got back-to-back kills from Emma Becker to close to within 23-22, but a service error stopped the run. After another kill by Becker made it 24-23, Henke delivered a clutch kill to end the set.
Cal State LA then really took command in the second set, moving out to an early lead and never looking back. Elliott had eight kills in the set and finished the set with a kill and an ace to give the Golden Eagles a 2-0 lead.
West Texas A&M showed its championship pedigree—the Lady Buffs have won four national titles—by coming back to take the third set, but Cal State LA took over again in the fourth.
The Golden Eagles really broke things open with a 7-0 run that stretched a 13-9 lead to 20-9. Elliott started the run with a kill, Dittmann had back-to-back kills, Henke had a kill, Elliott had back-to-back aces and Henke had another kill to give the Golden Eagles the commanding lead. A kill by Elliott and an ace by Paige made it 22-10, a kill by Henke made it 23-13 and a pair of West Texas A&M errors ended the match.
Elliott, Henke, Roundtree and Cannon were named to the All-Tournament team.