Ashland's Successful Season Ends With NCAA Playoff Loss

Ashland's Successful Season Ends With NCAA Playoff Loss


THE TURNING POINT: With the match tied at one set apiece, the Eagles took an 18-17 lead in the third set but failed to close it out, falling, 25-21.

STAT OF THE GAME: The match versus Lewis was Ashland's first NCAA playoff match since Dec. 6, 2013.

The No. 6-seeded Ashland University volleyball team's season ended with a four-set loss to No. 3 Lewis in the NCAA Regional Quarterfinals on Thursday (Dec. 1).

AU (23-11) won the first set, 26-24, behind six kills and a .417 hitting percentage by senior outside hitter Alli Cudworth. Cudworth was tabbed All-Midwest Region by the Division II Conference Commissioners Association on Tuesday (Nov. 29) and by the American Volleyball Coaches Association on Wednesday (Nov. 30). 

"It was a tough match," Cudworth said. "Our drive to want to win was there the whole time. Everybody was fighting and pushing, and that boosted me up."

"We knew coming into the match that it was going to be a battle, and that we would have to play point for point," Ashland head coach Cass Dixon said. "The first set really embodied that."

The Eagles didn't win another set in the match, dropping the second, 25-21, the third, 25-21, and the fourth, 25-16.

"I think we did a good job in the second set, as well," Dixon said. "But then we got to a point where we had some mental lapses and unforced errors that put us behind a little bit. We just didn't recover from that very well. We kept fighting, but we couldn't quite get into a rhythm."

The Flyers (25-8) recorded a .350 team hitting percentage in the match, trumping Ashland's .226 percentage.

Cudworth (18 kills) and freshman outside hitter Shelby Woycik (16) led the match in kills and combined for 62 percent of the Eagles' 55 kills in the match. Sophomore setter Kayla Pfeiffer led Ashland with 42 assists, and junior libero Melanie Aguayo led with 19 digs. 

After beginning the season 10-8, Ashland won 13 of its last 16 games, including a nine-match win streak, its longest since 2013. The Eagles also finished their 2016 home schedule undefeated at 11-0 for the first time in at least 30 seasons.

"If you would've asked me midway through our season," Dixon said, "I wasn't quite sure if we'd make it here. Making it to the national tournament is a fantastic feat. Only 63 other teams in Division II can say that they made it here. Our goal is always to make it to the NCAA Tournament."

Ashland finished second in the regular-season Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division standings with a 12-5 conference record. The Eagles also placed second in the GLIAC Tournament for the first time since 2013. 

"At the beginning of the season," said Cudworth, who was GLIAC Freshman of the Year on the 2013 team, "I remember Cass coming up to us seniors and asking, 'Is this really how you want your senior season to go?' We wanted to do something with it. I'm extremely proud of our team and how far we've come."