WEST HAVEN, Conn. – The University of New Haven women’s volleyball team advanced to the 2012 NCAA Division II Elite Eight Championship with a 3-2 win over Bridgeport on Saturday evening in the NCAA East Region Championship Match. The Chargers advance to the Elite Eight for the 12th time in program history. New Haven won the match by set scores of 25-16, 20-25, 25-13, 20-25 and 18-16.
New Haven, which returns to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008, improves the nation’s best record to 30-1 with its 27th consecutive victory. The Northeast-10 Conference Champion and top-seeded Chargers reach the 30-win plateau for the 20th time in the program’s 37-year history.
Second-seeded Bridgeport – the East Coast Conference Champions – ends its season at 27-5.
Kristy Atufunwa (Denver, Colo./Denver East) and Keidy Candelaria (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico/Bayamon Military Academy) shared the match high with 15 kills apiece. Amber Cannady (Yonkers, N.Y./Charles E. Gorton) added 14 finishers, and Kristen Lee (Colorado Springs, Colo./Liberty) posted 10. Ashley Dalton (Helena, Mont./Capital / Northern Arizona) contributed four kills, and Kea-Marie Olaso (Kailua, Hawai’i/Le Jardin Academy) notched one. Kaulana Ane (Paia, Hawaii/Kamehameha) distributed 49 assists with five kills of her own for New Haven, which collectively hit .171 (64-30-199).
Defensively, Olaso registered 28 kills, and Bai Zhang (China/Shan Dong Zi Bo No. 10 / China Shan Dong Normal University) had 13 from the back row. Ane, Lee and Candelaria all completed double-doubles with 12, 11 and 10 digs, respectively. At the net, Atufunwa had a hand in five of the Chargers’ eight blocks, helping to limit the Purple Knights to a .144 hitting percentage (55-29-180).
Ying Shen (12 kills, 20 digs), Biljana Savic (14 kills, 11 digs) and Fernanda Silva (46 assists, 12 digs) all recorded double-doubles for Bridgeport. Taylor McBeth led all players with 33 digs.
New Haven started off strong with the first five points of the match – including three of Candelaria’s four service aces – en route to a wire-to-wire, 25-16 set-one win. The Purple Knights responded it set two, breaking a 20-20 deadlock by winning the final five points to take a 25-20 decision and knot the match at 1-1.
In the third set, the Chargers once again never trailed. New Haven fought off four early ties but, following a 9-9 stalemate, finished the frame on a 16-4 run to earn a 25-13 win and pull within one set of the East Region Championship.
Set four was much like the previous frame, though this time it was Bridgeport that claimed the advantage out of an early tie. The Purple Knights put together seven consecutive points in the middle of the frame and never looked back en route to a 25-20 win that pushed the match to a deciding fifth set.
For the second straight match, the Chargers found themselves trailing 5-1 in set five and cut the deficit to 8-6 at the turn. New Haven continued the rally to take a 12-11 lead before the Purple Knights won three consecutive points to earn the first match point. at 14-12. Kills by Ane and Lee fought off the first two championship-point chances and, after a Bridgeport point, an Atufunwa kill erased a third. The Chargers were on the ropes again, down 16-15, when Lee came through again with a kill to tie the score at 16-16. This time, New Haven took advance with back-to-back kills from Candelaria to send the Chargers to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight Championship.
New Haven will travel to Pensacola, Fla. for the championship event. The Chargers will meet No. 19 Indianapolis – the Great Lakes Valley Conference regular season champion and winner of the Midwest Region crown – on Thursday, Dec. 6 in a national quarterfinal. NewHavenChargers.com will provide extensive coverage throughout the week leading up to the Elite Eight.