By: Kayla Wellage, Staff Writer
File Photo by: Kara Bucaro/The Towerlight
The Towson Tigers fell short in their NCAA Second Round Tournament match against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Despite their 3-1 loss, the Tigers made program history by winning their first ever NCAA tournament match vs American.
Senior setter Marissa Wonders is a Pennsylvania native who looked forward to playing in Happy Valley.
“I grew up watching matches in Rec Hall, and to be able to play the last match of my career there, and be competitive against one of the top teams in the nation, was very emotional for me and something I will never forget,” Wonders said.
This matchup would be their first in nearly 30 years as the Tigers last faced the Nittany Lions in October of 1980.
As the Towson seniors played their final career game, the tone of the match was bitter-sweet.
“I will miss the special bonds I have created with every single one of my teammates and coaches,” Wonders said. “These people have shaped my life and helped me become the person I am today.”
All four sets were competitive with multiple back and forth runs by both teams.
The final set demonstrated Towson’s intense perseverance. After being tied seven times in the set, the Nittany Lions went on a six-point run to win the set 25-20.
The second and third sets began with the teams within two points of each other, but Penn State took the lead after taking care of the ball and winning the error margin 13-6. The Nittany Lions scored seven unanswered in the third set to pull ahead and scored at least three unanswered four times in the second set.
Despite the loss, the Tigers accomplished a lot this season and are proud of their efforts.
“It’s been the team’s main goal every season and to have been able to finally get past the semis, which is where they have ended most years, and to make it to the finals and win is a huge achievement for this team,” sophomore setter Emily Jarome said.
The Tigers defeated American University 3-2 for its first NCAA Tournament win.
Senior outside hitter Olivia Finckel obtained a career-high of 23 kills in this match.
At Rec Hall, the Tigers won the fifth and final set against American 15-12 after a kill by Finckel and an Eagle error.
“The reaction of everyone involved after we won showed how hard we all worked to make it happen,” Jarome said.
This set included two four-point runs by the Eagles, but the Tigers were able to take the lead after a five-point run that included an ace by Wonders.
In the fourth set, the Tigers went on a 12-point run after trailing by eight points. The Tigers lost this set 25-22.
The second set started slow for the Tigers as they trailed the Eagles after a five-point run by American. Towson did not score more than two consecutive points as they lost the set 25-15.
The Tigers won the first, third, and fifth set with got them their first NCAA Tournament win. The Tigers made their last tournament appearance in 2004 where they fell in the first round against the University of Maryland.
“Being a part of the first NCAA win was priceless,” senior middle blocker Silvia Grassini said. “It was a very emotional game.”
The Tigers had a perfect conference season and a winning streak of 23 matches. Five seniors will be leaving the program as CAA Championship winners.
“I hope the team builds off of the experience they gained from this past season and expects nothing less of themselves next season,” Wonders said. “I hope they continue to push themselves in the gym next season and never give up on their goals, no matter how lofty they may seem.”
Towson’s season came to an end against Penn State, however, Wonders is aware of how far the team came.
“Some people will say you have unrealistic expectations, but I prefer to say they are attainable dreams,” Wonders said. “In order to do something incredible, you have to be willing to put in an incredible amount of work.”