Grace spikers topple No. 18 USF

WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Grace’s volleyball team sent shockwaves through the Crossroads League with a 3-2 upset of No. 18 St. Francis on Wednesday.

The Lady Lancers (16-7, 8-3 CL) beat USF in an emotionally charged match.

The Cougars (20-4, 9-2 CL) entered Wednesday’s match winning 17 of their past 18 matches. They left the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center in a tie with Marian for first place in the league standings, just one game ahead of Grace and Indiana Wesleyan.

The teams split the first two sets with USF winning 25-23 in the opener and Grace finding revenge 25-20 in the second set.

Grace held a slight 17-15 edge in the third set, but the Cougars responded by taking six of the final seven points to win 25-22. USF had 16 kills and just two errors in the set for their best offensive performance.

With their backs to the wall, the Lady Lancers throttled USF in the fourth set. Grace charged ahead 11-3 and coasted to a 10-point victory to force a tiebreaker. The Cougars had no answer for Caylie Teel; the senior racked up seven kills in the fourth set alone, including a stretch of three straight kills.

The decisive fifth set was a nailbiter. Grace had to swallow a pair of questionable decisions by the officials midway into the set as USF led 9-7.

The Lady Lancers showed resilience, however, scoring three straight points to take a 12-11 lead after a kill from Marta Bleed. Kelsee Zuidema had a kill for Grace’s 13th point, Caylie Teel and Kelsey Smith blocked a point on the next play, and Teel secured the upset with a kill for the final 15-12 score.

Zuidema was dominant for Grace, producing a season-high 20 kills on a .250 percentage. Teel was also electric with 18 kills, 15 digs and 2 block assists.

Alexa Hill added to her NAIA assist-leading total, amassing 54 assists, 18 digs and 3 block assists in an All-American performance.

Marta Bleed tallied 12 kills, and Makaela Lochmueller had 9 kills, 1 solo block and 3 block assists.

Gina Novotny, the reigning CL Defender of the Week, led all players with 27 digs, and Makayla Bell and Deborah Michalski each chipped in nine digs.

Grace had 10 more kills than USF (63 to 53) and hit at a higher percentage (.183 to .153).

The Lady Lancers have two more league matches left this week, including home against Taylor on Friday at 7 p.m. and at Huntington on Saturday.