Coach Mitch Jacobs was elated with the effort put forth this entire week by the Thundering Herd volleyball team. The Herd not only won their first-ever MAC tournament game back on Tuesday in the Cam Henderson Center over Toledo, but beat number-two seed Central Michigan and number-three seed Akron to advance to the finals for the first-time since joining the MAC in 1997 and the first appearance in the finals of any league tournament since Marshall won the Southern Conference in 1995.
"I'm so proud that our team fought and fought today," said Jacobs, who has taken a program that had only eleven wins in 2000 and 2001 combined to back-to-back 20-win seasons. "We had our chances, but played erratically at times (in the finals). I'm just so proud to (have played) in the championship game, getting here is the hardest thing to do." Marshall finished the season 21-16, 8-9 in the MAC.
Marshall was led in the final by freshman Christin Bimberg, who posted eight kills in the match. Sophomore Jen Harper and senior All-MAC Honorable Mention selection Nicole Michal each added seven kills in the finals. The Herd made it to the finals on the strength of three big wins during the week. Marshall hosted and won its first-ever MAC volleyball tournament game when the number-seven seeded Herd knocked off the Rockets in four sets, 3-1. Marshall then advanced to the tournament in Muncie where game one on Friday afternoon was against the number-two seed Central Michigan, who along with number-one Ohio and number-three Akron had received first-round byes in the new tournament format that mirrored the basketball tourney for the first time, taking all 13 members of the MAC to post-season.
Marshall whipped the West Division champs in four sets, 30-23, 30-32, 32-30 and 30-24 in the clinching match. The Chippewas finished the season at 18-13. Marshall libero Ashley Barnard paced three Herd players in double digets in digs with 20. Senior Tracy King, who posted 17 kills, had 14 digs and setter Katie Stein added 15 digs. Amber Sims added 14 kills in the CMU match and Michal has 13 kills. Marshall now had to face another team with a first-round bye, the number-three seeded Zips of Akron as two of the three top seeds came from the East where MU competes. Akron had defeated number six Northern Illinois, but had no answer for the Herd's attack as Marshall rolled the Zips in just three games, 34-32, 30-23 and 30-24.
Pacing the Herd attack was Bimberg with 17 kills. King added 13 kills while Sims had eight in the match. Match one went back and forth, as there were 22 ties and nine lead changes with MU getting the largest lead of the match at 12-9. Bimberg would finish game one with nine of her 17 kills in leading Marshall to the win and the Herd carried the momentum into games two and three. Marshall hit an impressive .260 in game two and had 19 kills in the match. In the decisive game three, Marshall held the Zips almost to zip, limiting the Akron attack to only a .087 hitting percentage and registering six blocks on Akron.
Marshall senior Andrea Kastein summed up the week with the statement, "Wow! This is unbelievable!" She and fellow seniors Michal, King and Barnard saw the program improve from seasons of 5-26, 2-17 in the MAC in 2000; 6-21, 4-14 in 2001; 20-12, 11-7 in 2002 in Jacob's first season; and finally 21-16, 8-9 this season. Marshall has only posted back-to-back 20-plus win seasons only five times since the programs inception in 1970 as a member of the AIAW. "Going from five wins our freshman year to playing for a MAC championship is amazing," said Michal. "I can not believe it. I'm so proud of this team. It has been awesome this weekend, a total team effort. Everyone has been playing out of their minds."
Ohio will move onto the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 mark. The paring will be out this week.