Hoboken, N.J. – With their backs against the wall entering the fifth set, Clark University came up big and the Cougars capped their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance with a heart-stopping 3-2 win over Montclair State in first round action at Stevens Institute of Technology.
The Scarlet and White won the first two sets and actually served for the match in the third set but the Red Hawks staved off elimination – if only for a few more sets.
The win for the Cougars sends them into the regional semifinals against the host Ducks who dispatched of Regis College in the day's final match, while Montclair State, playing less than 20 minutes from their campus' front gates, sees their season come to an end at 26-9.
Score: Clark University 3, Montclair State 2 (25-23, 25-23, 26-28, 13-25, 15-8)
Records: Clark University 24-8, Montclair State 26-9
Location: Canavan Arena, Hoboken, N.J.
How It Happened:
Marina Ramos (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) started out hot, getting three kills in the first six Cougar points and Clark led 9-6 until a Red Hawk rally evened the score at 9-9.
The Scarlet and White went ahead on a Jacqueline Jimenez-Maldonado (San Francisco, Calif.) tip kill and then surged ahead 14-11 following a Rayme Quiban (Seattle, Wash.) service ace, forcing a Montclair State timeout.
Clark was in front 17-15 after a tricky Courtney Pharr (Seattle, Wash.) kill but the Red Hawks went on a 4-1 run to take the lead.
Montclair moved ahead 21-20 but three straight points from Clark capped by a Ramos kill that had a vapor trail on the end of it, had the Scarlet and White in front, 23-21. Clark then wrapped up the set on a kill from Ramos and an excellent tip kill from Mercado.
In the second set, the Red Hawks jumped out to an early 3-0 lead but the Cougars battled back, recording seven straight points, highlighted by consecutive service aces from Quiban.
Montclair didn't go away, however, and moved back in front 10-8. The Red Hawks kept the lead and built it up to 13-10 until Clark roared back to move in front 14-13 after a sneaky Rachel Webb (Celina, Texas) kill.
The set was still nip and tuck and tied a 22-22 when Jimenez-Maldonado hammered down a kill but once again the Red Hawks were up to the task, tying the game at 23-23.
Clark sealed the set when Hannah Fox (Dracut, Mass.) got the final two points of the set on consecutive kills, including the set-sealing tip kill that left the Red Hawks defenders flat footed.
The Cougars continued to employ the tip kill effectively in the third set, and after another tip winner, the Scarlet and White were ahead, 14-10 forcing a Montclair State timeout.
Clark looked like as if it might cruise to the win when they went ahead, 15-10 but Montclair State rallied and forced a Cougar timeout when the Red Hawks closed to within 16-15.
With the crowd rallying behind them after the timeout, the Red Hawks grabbed the momentum and went in front 20-16. Undeterred the Cougars registered three straight points to get to within one at 20-19.
The set continued, going back and forth and Clark moved to serve not only for the set but for the match when Ramos notched another kill and Quiban served up another ace. A close call went in favor of the Red Hawks and they eventually pushed through to take the third set, 28-26.
The Red Hawks clearly stole momentum with their second set win and sprinted ahead to a 12-4 lead in the fourth set. That lead ballooned to 16-5, until a Fox kill stymied the tide.
Down 19-9, the Scarlet and White never really challenged as Montclair State rolled to a 25-14 win to force the fifth and deciding set.
Clark jumped on the Red Hawks early in the fifth set as Ana Mercado (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) had a trio of key kills and the Scarlet and White found themselves ahead, 6-4.
The two teams switched sides with the Cougars in front 8-6 and then another one of Webb's customary sneaky kills, had Clark in front 9-6, forcing a Red Hawk timeout.
Moments later the Scarlet and White found themselves in front 12-8 after a block from Webb and Pharr.
Montclair got as close as 13-9 but Pharr recorded a kill and then Webb ended the match on a service ace to push the Cougars into the next round.
Numbers Never Lie:
Several Clark stars had huge performances in the win. Webb doled out 54 assists to go along with her ten digs, while Ramos just missed out another 20/20 match, ending the night with 25 kills and 19 digs.
Quiban was outstanding on the backline for the Cougars, racking up a match-high 27 digs to go with seven assists and four service aces.
Jimenez-Maldonado posted a double-double of her own, finishing with ten kills and 15 digs and Mercado was strong as well, totaling 14 kills on .414 hitting.
Fox (nine kills) and Pharr (seven kills, five block assists) also had standout showings for Clark, who also got ten digs from Savannah Sanford (San Anselmo, Calif.).
Clark will face the regional host and top seed Stevens (32-5) on Saturday at 4:00 p.m.