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MEDAILLE DIGS TRIP TO FINAL FOUR
MEN'S VOLLEYBALL TEAM RETURNS TO DIVISION III TOURNAMENT

The Medaille College men's volleyball team is ranked No. 6 in the country and has reached the Division III final four for the second season in a row.

There's little to fear, right?

"A lot of people are afraid," captain Erik Hartman said.

Medaille will face powerhouse Juniata College at 5 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the Molten Division III Invitational Volleyball Championship tournament in Hoboken, N.J. It will be a rematch from last year's semis, which Juniata swept before going on to win the title.

"Juniata is a great program," Medaille coach Keith Koch said. "We're going to have to be at our best to beat them, but there is that revenge factor.

"There's a chance they might take us lightly, but with the experience we gained from last year we won't be as nervous stepping out on the court as they were last year."

Medaille (19-8) won its division in the North East Collegiate Volleyball Association and finished second in the conference tournament.

Juniata earned all 16 first-place votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and boasts four first-team All-Americans. The Eagles are 17-7 but play in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, which features seven Division I and five Division II programs. The central Pennsylvania school played nine Division III foes, beating them all.

"They bring that (intimidating) presence," said Hartman, a Hamburg High grad. "But you play your game and compete and try to steal one from them. If our game's there and we pass well, we can definitely give them a game."

Koch, in only his second season as head coach, has put Medaille on course to be among the perennial elite. The Mavericks returned all of their players from last season's team that finished No. 4 in the country and will welcome everybody back again next season.

Sophomore Jake Beiter (Eden) is among the national leaders in kills, aces and points. Sophomore Brett Wood is among the best in hitting percentage and freshman Drew Lewandowski (Kenmore West) is among the assist leaders.

"Division III volleyball's getting a lot better with the competition out there, but this program is just so built right now," said Beiter, a second-team All-American. "The core is just solid."

In Friday's other semifinal, No. 2 seed and host Stevens Tech will play No. 3 seed Carthage College. The final will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday. The semifinal losers will play a consolation game at 5 p.m.

The NCAA sanctions only one men's volleyball championship, with teams from all three divisions competing for a berth in that four-team tournament. In the 32-year history of the NCAA event, no Division III school has been selected. The Molten Invitational began in 1997 as a way to determine a champion for the 41 schools that compete at the nonscholarship level.

Medaille gained its berth into the Molten Invitational by finishing second to Stevens Tech in the NECVA tournament. Since the host school gets an automatic bid anyway, the tournament selection committee invited the conference runner-up.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com