By Tim Glon
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — No. 22-ranked Ohio Northern fell in a thrilling 25-12, 19-25, 25-20, 22-25, 17-15 match to Millikin (Ill.) in the First Round of the Calvin Regional in the NCAA Division III Volleyball Tournament on Thursday afternoon at the Van Noord Arena.
The Polar Bears see their 19-match winning streak come to an end and will end their season with a 27-4 record.
The Big Blue improves to 27-11 and will now face the winner of Thursday's second match between No. 6 Wittenberg and Bethany (W.Va.)
Later on Thursday, No. 21 Carnegie Mellon (Pa.) will face DePauw (Ind.) at 5:30 pm and No. 2-ranked tournament host Calvin (Mich.) will host Pittsburgh-Bradford at 8 pm.
Northern dropped the first and third sets, but rallied each time to win the following set and tie the match.
In Set 5, ONU was serving for the match ahead 15-14, but Millikin would score the final three points to post the victory.
"We came out slow, but I am proud at how we hung in there," ONU head coach Kate Witte said. "Millikin is legit. They are the best No. 6 seed we have faced as the No. 3 seed in my NCAA Tournaments. They took us out of what we wanted to do. But for our players to battle back and have a lead in the fifth set is an accomplishment."
The Polar Bears came out sluggish as the Big Blue raced to an 11-3 lead in Set 1. Leading 18-12, the Big Blue scored the final seven points to end the set 25-12.
"We were nervous in the first set," senior Ashley Borchers (Russia) said. "We got the jitters out and played better the rest of the match. It was exciting to be a part of the NCAA Tournament. We worked very hard all summer and all season to get here."
A kill by Potters got Ohio Northern off to a good start in the second set, but Millikin would score the next three points to again grab the lead at 3-1.
Kills by freshman Sydney Fecko (Aurora/Trinity) and by Borchers would tie the match at 11.
MU would score five of the next six points to regain the lead at 16-12 and force a Polar Bear timeout.
Two kills by Huppert and two by Heitkamp would spark a 10-3 run and give the Polar Bears a 22-19 lead.
After MU's second timrout, freshman McKenna Jordan (Toledo/Saint Ursula) served an ace and Potters picked up a kill and Northern closed out the set on a 13-3 run.
In Set 3, an early 6-0 Big Blue run erased a 4-3 ONU lead and gave Millikin a 9-4 advantage.
The lead grew to 17-9 before three straight Northern points made it 17-12.
A 4-0 run pulled Northern within 24-20 and provided a bit of momentum heading into the fourth set.
Set 4 was a fairly even affair early until a 5-2 run gave Millikin a 14-10 advantage.
A 4-1 Polar Bear run would make it 15-14, but the Big Blue answered with a 4-0 run to extend the lead to 19-14.
Trailing 21-15, the Polar Bears rattled off nine straight points to take a 24-21 lead.
Millikin jumped to a 5-2 lead in Set 5, but the Polar Bears rallied to tie the set at 6-all.
MU led 8-7 at the changeover and scored three of the next four points to go up 11-8.
But again the Polar Bears rallied and tied the set at 12-all.
Northern led 15-14 with a chance to win the set, but the Big Blue got a pair of kills around an attack error to win the set 17-15.
"It's a disappointing finish but the future is bright for our program," Witte said. "We played all eight freshmen today. Our two seniors, Ashley Borchers and Claire Heitkamp, have been outstanding role models. Their legacy will be that they got our program back on an upward trajectory."
"We knew that we could play better than we did in the first set," Heitkamp said. "It was our goal to win the OAC and get back to the NCAA Tournament."
Ohio Northern entered the match ranked fourth nationally with a .267 hitting percentage but struggled on offense with a .125 percentage on 47 kills with 23 errors on 192 attempts.
Millikin hit .173 with 63 kills and 26 errors on 214 attempts.
Borchers dished out 39 assists and junior Megan Nieszala (Lambertville, Mich./St. Mary's Central Catholic) had a career-high 40 digs for ONU.
The Big Blue were led by Erin Syversen with a match-high 18 kills.