NEWARK, Del. – Another day, another five-set thriller. This is one Virginia Commonwealth University volleyball fans will talk about for a while.
Senior Jessica Ojukwu (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and junior Jasmine Waters (Landover, Md.) sparked a fifth-set rally and senior Courtney Hott (Fredericksburg, Va.) finished the job to send sixth-seeded VCU to a 3-2 (23-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-20, 15-12) upset of No. 2 Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals at the Bob Carpenter Building.
The Rams (17-15) advance to the CAA Championship Match on Sunday against top-seeded Delaware at 5 p.m. The Blue Hens rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat James Madison 3-2. It will be VCU fourth appearance in the championship match, all since 2005.
VCU fell behind 8-3 in the tiebreaker before staging one of the most dramatic comebacks in school history. Following a timeout, Waters provided a kill and a solo block of Northeastern's Janelle Tucker on back-to-back plays. Ojukwu added a kill and a block on the ensuing two to trim the Huskies' lead to 8-7.
Northeastern moved ahead 10-8 on a double block by Tucker and Nichole Kurz, but VCU ripped off the next four points to grab a 12-10 advantage. Two plays later, Hott (pictured, left) sandwiched kills around a VCU service error and then combined with freshman Cecilia Aragao (Recife, Brazil) for a double block on NU's Kelly Bacon to clinch the win.
"We just talked about that each individual had to do their job. When you have to play at a high level, the difference of playing here or here is the difference in winning a championship," said VCU Head Coach James Finley.
Hott's performance was almost certainly one of the best of her career. The 6-foot-2 senior middle hit .464 on the night and provided five blocks.
"Bottom line is Courtney Hott was amazing tonight. I mean, wow," Finley said.
Junior outside hitter Kristin Boyd (Wilmington, N.C.) supplied 15 kills and four blocks, while Waters provided defensive punch with 11 blocks. Aragao set 50 assists.
VCU trailed 1-0 and 2-1 in the match. Each time, the Rams answered with impressive performances. The Black and Gold routed Northeastern in the second set 25-15 after building a 21-8 lead. In the fourth, VCU forced the tiebreaker after hitting .278 with four blocks.
Bacon led Northeastern (21-6) with 15 kills, while CAA Defensive Specialist of the Year Natalia Skiba recorded 23 digs.
VCU will roll into Sunday's title bout in the midst of a season-high six-match win streak. The Rams have won eight of nine overall. Their only loss during that stretch was a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Northeastern Oct. 29 in Boston. On Saturday, the Rams exacted revenge for that loss.
After dramatic, five-set victories on consecutive nights, Finley would like to see the Rams take a different approach on Sunday's final.
"We've got to play hard from start to finish and we've got to eliminate that set where we have the error," he said. "I'd like to not go five tomorrow. I'd like to win it in three. That would be nice. But I'll take it any way it comes if it's a 'W'."
The Rams will be seeking their second CAA Championship and fourth conference crown overall. VCU captured its lone CAA title in 2005, Finley's first season. They returned to the championship match in 2006 and 2009, but fell to Hofstra and George Mason, respectively. A No. 6 seed has never won a CAA Volleyball Championship and the Rams are just the third team to reach the final as the sixth seed, joining James Madison in 1989 and the 2006 VCU squad.