Syracuse’s seniors instrumental in program’s 1st-ever NCAA tournament win

first_img Comments Published on November 30, 2018 at 8:21 pm Contact Eric: estorms@syr.edu STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As “The Twist” by Chubby Checker blasted through the Rec Hall at Penn State between Friday’s second and third set, Syracuse players couldn’t help but dance along and smile. SU head coach Leonid Yelin didn’t seem to have anything to tell them. At that point, the Orange were already up two sets in the match, on their way to their first ever NCAA tournament win in their first ever attempt, powering past Yale (19-5, 13-1 Ivy League) in straight sets, 3-0. It was clear the moment on Friday night was not too big for the Orange (19-8, 4-4 Atlantic Coast). And SU’s seniors were a big reason why.Seniors Santita Ebangwese and Amber Witherspoon each had a team-leading seven kills after the second set. Ebangwese finished with 10 kills and five blocks while Witherspoon came away with nine and six, respectively. Senior Jalissa Trotter accounted for assists on 36 of the team’s 41 kills.“They brought experience,” Yelin said. “That’s what seniors have to do. You don’t have to explain to them it’s the last opportunity. Just have fun and just play.”The Orange got rolling early in the first set on a 7-2 run to take a 10-5 lead. Yale would then never trail by more than four but was never able to tie it. A return error on a Polina Shemanova hit ended the set 25-22 in favor of Syracuse.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe second set is where Ebangwese believed the Orange really started clicking. When Yale went up 18-14, the Orange responded with an Ebangwese slide hit after a long rally. Then, one more. The next play resulted in yet another Ebangwese kill. Syracuse went on an 8-0 run to take a 22-14 lead. The Orange won the set, 25-21.“I could hear [Ebangwese] with blocking through the net and she knew the scouting report really well,” Yale junior Frances Arnautou said. “She made some great plays also defensively blocking.”Santita Ebangwese (left) and Christina Oyawale go up for a block against Yale. Courtesy of Syracuse Athletics | Matthew SniegowskiIn the third set, not much changed. Syracuse never trailed and won the set handily by a score of 25-16. Yale head coach Erin Appleman believed “a mismatch” upfront with Syracuse’s seniors was part of the Bulldogs’ undoing. “I think [Ebangwese] is one of the hardest workers I’ve seen,” Appleman said. “All the film I’ve watched on her, she even defensively gets after it… And then [Witherspoon] is just so enormous and has such a high reach. There were definitely some mis-connections between them, and she was still able to come down and hit the ball and get a kill.”The mismatch showed in the boxscore. Syracuse out-blocked Yale, 12-3. Going into the match, the Orange ranked second in the nation in blocks per set with 3.08, only behind No. 1 Stanford.“We talk to each other on the block,” Ebangwese said. “We work on timing. We work on positioning. Maybe one person makes a mistake, but the other person corrects it so we can stay on top of our blocking game.”The Orange will remain in State College, Pennsylvania, to next face the winner of Howard and Penn State on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Penn State is the second best seed in SU’s region and the No. 8 overall seed in the tournament.Yelin did not believe the 3-0 fashion in which SU won will have an impact on Saturday’s game and said that his attitude is “one game at a time.”Despite the anxious anticipation and excitement some Syracuse players have felt all week leading up to the program’s first ever tournament game, the feeling ultimately disappeared once on the court.“It’s another game,” Ebangwese said of how she felt before the game started. “We have to get that dub. We have to do what we’re supposed to do, what we talked about for game plan. I didn’t think of it as, ‘Oh my god it’s our first NCAA debut game.’ No. I think of it as another game, another opponent that we can take. So we have to give it all we got.”center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more