Larry Bock, a legendary coach in women's volleyball, finally grabbed an elusive prize when his Juniata squad captured the Division III national championship November 27 in Rochester, Minnesota.
Bock and the Eagles, who had made 23 prior appearances in the NCAA tournament, had all the answers en route to defeating the defending national champion Washington U. in St. Louis, 30-27, 30-27, 30-28, in the championship match.
Bock, the only coach in the history of the Juniata program, had taken his teams to the semifinals 18 times previously, which also included four appearances in the championship match, only to be denied a victory to end the season. Bock has won 1,032 matches as a coach.
"For 24 years, I've come to these (post-championship) press conferences and have had to come from a locker room with girls who were crying. This is much better,'' said Bock, who also coached the Juniata men's team to 100 wins from 1990 to 1995. "I couldn't feel better about the school I work for and for this team, which deserves all the credit.''
Senior setter Carli Dale, the Division III player of the year, and all-America sophomore Stephanie Kines led Juniata in the finals against Washington, which finished the season 32-7.
Dale was credited with 51 assists and 12 digs, and Kines registered 17 kills against the Bears.
While Juniata displayed plenty of offense, the way the Eagles thwarted Washington's attack was key in the outcome.
"Juniata's back-court defense was the difference,'' said Washington coach Rich Luenemann. "They played defense at the best level of any Division III team. If there is anyone in America who it is OK to lose to, it's Larry Bock.''
The national title wasn't the only first for the Eagles. While Bock has coached 29 all-Americans over the years, Dale is the first player in Juniata history to earn national player of the year honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
The Eagles also had to overcome a serious illness to team member Erin Dodson, who was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year. Dodson was able to make the trip to Rochester, Minnesota, to see the Eagles claim the championship trophy.
In the final match, Juniata scored the last three points of Game 1 to break a 27-27 tie. The last point came on an ace by Katie Laucks, who joined Dale, Hines and Tara McMinn on the all-tournament team.
Juniata never trailed in Game 2, though the Eagles had to hold off a late rally by the Bears, who cut a 29-23 deficit to two points before falling, 30-27.
The Eagles scored five of the final eight points in Game 3 to complete the sweep.
"We didn't just do this for our team,'' Kines said. "We did it for Larry and for every former Juniata volleyball player who has gone through the program.''
Juniata, which had lost two prior final meetings against Washington in 1993 and 1996, ended the 2004 season on a 20-match winning streak.
To advance to the final, Juniata defeated New York University, 30-21, 30-25, 30-19. Washington qualified for its second straight championship match by downing La Verne, 30-25, 30-15, 30-25.
Juniata def. Emory, 30-21, 30-20, 30-24; New York U. def. Williams, 30-26, 25-30, 30-15, 30-24; Washington-St. Louis def. Wis.-La Crosse, 30-26, 25-30, 35-33, 30-21; La Verne def. Wittenberg, 30-16, 30-25, 30-26.
Juniata def. New York U., 30-21, 30-25, 30-19; Washington-St. Louis def. La Verne, 30-25, 30-15, 30-25.
La Verne def. New York U., 30-25, 28-30, 30-28, 30-23.