Volleyball team wins ninth national title

The WUSTL volleyball team defeated the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 3-2, to win the NCAA Div. III Championship in Bloomington, Ill., Nov. 17. The title is the team’s NCAA-best ninth and its first since the 2003 season.

Head coach Rich Luenemann, who won his 900th match as a collegiate head coach earlier in the NCAA tournament, won the second NCAA title of his career. Afterward, the team celebrated on the court along with fans who made the 3-hour drive to Bloomington, including Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

Senior outside hitter Haleigh Spencer and junior setter Audra Janak were named to the NCAA All-Tournament Team. Junior outside hitter Alli Alberts earned NCAA Championship MVP honors.

En route to the championship, the Bears defeated five teams ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top 15 and in each of the final three rounds defeated a team they have lost to earlier in the year. The Bears defeated University Athletic Association (UAA) rival No. 3 Emory University, 3-1, in the quarterfinal Nov. 15 and top-ranked and previously unbeaten Wittenberg University, 3-1, in the semifinal Nov. 16.

The Bears ended the season on a six-match winning streak, with their last loss coming to Emory, 3-2, in the UAA championship Nov. 3.

What made the title all the sweeter is that the team had a rough start, beginning the season with a 7-4 record. However, the Bears would lose only one more match — against Emory in the UAA championship — en route to the title.

“You have to understand how proud I am of this team,” Luenemann said. “This group has worked harder than any team that I have ever coached. We were not a strong team at the beginning of the year, but we came into practice, worked hard at getting better and fought through it. If any team is deserving of winning a national championship, it is this group.”