ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Carleton College volleyball team did what no other conference squad could do, take No. 7 ranked University of St. Thomas to a full five sets. The Knights overcame a one-set deficit and nearly completed the upset, falling 25-21, 17-25, 20-25, 26-24, 12-15 in the semifinals of the MIAC Playoffs. Senior Jessa Youso (Virginia, Minn./Virginia) led all players with 20 kills and hit .439 while also figuring in six blocks.
The Knights (18-10 overall), listed eighth in the NCAA regional rankings released earlier on Thursday, are still on “the bubble” and must now cross their fingers until Monday morning to see if Carleton receives an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament. St. Thomas advanced to the conference tournament final versus Saint Benedict.
"We showed no fear in facing St. Thomas tonight,” Carleton head coach Heidi Jaynes said. “Jessa had another monster night for us, as did Camille (Benson) on defense. Sarah (Nielsen) and Karen (Halls) also added a lot of offense, thanks largely to the fabulous job Alicia (Flatt) did in the delivering the ball to our hitters.”
“We fought so hard and made great adjustments throughout the match. I'm so proud of how we played, but we just came up short.”
St. Thomas (33-1) set a school record for victories. The Tommies scored the night’s first two points, but the Knights responded with a 7-2 spurt that set the tone for a highly entertaining and intense contest. The Carleton lead stretched as far as six before the hosts clawed back to within 22-20. After a St. Thomas service error, Youso struck a timely kill propelling the Knights to take the first set, 25-21.
St. Thomas took a note from the Carleton playbook and began the second game with a 7-4 lead of their own. The Knights responded, thanks in part to four kills from Karen Halls (So./Edina, Minn./Edina), and evened out the score, 16-16. From there the Tommies broke away with a 9-1 run, winning the set.
Again St. Thomas jumped out in front to begin the third set with a 10-6 lead, but the hosts were unable to pull away. A Carleton 6-2 spurt knotted the score at 12-12 before the Tommies responded with run of their own, building an 18-13 lead. This advantage proved insurmountable for the Knights, who dropped the game, 25-20.
Already leading 2-1 in sets, St. Thomas appeared to be in control of the match, especially after using a six-point run to take a 12-7 lead in the fourth game. The Tommies maintained this lead up to 17-12 when play was halted with a well-timed Carleton timeout. Coming out of the break in the play, the Knights used two quick Youso kills to spark the comeback, eventually tying the game, 22-22.
Later facing set and match point at 24-23, senior Sarah Nielsen (Altoona, Wis./Altoona) gave the Knights new life with a clutch kill. The Knight defense forced the Tommies McKenna Reagan into an error and won the fourth set, 26-24, when junior Chloe Nelson (/Madison, Wis./West) delivered an ace.
Riding the momentum from game four, Carleton came out hot in the deciding set with two Nielsen kills and built a 5-1 lead. Despite a St. Thomas timeout, the Knights kept firing, increasing their lead to 10-4. Five points away from elimination, the Tommies used their final timeout.
This time St. Thomas found new life and Carleton could not stem the tide. Recently anointed MIAC Player-of-the-Year Kelly Foley tallied four kills as the Tommies closed the match on an 11-2 burst for their 28th consecutive triumph.
Alicia Flatt (So./Walnut Creek, Calif./ Carondelet) finished with a match-best 46 assists and added 17 digs as well. Camille Benson (Fy./Savage, Minn./Burnsville), who served three aces, paced the team in digs with 25. Nelson also brought up 16 balls.
The Knights recorded 10 blocks, with Youso and Halls both figuring in five of those. Halls also contributed a career-high 15 kills. Nielsen chipped in 10 kills.
Five Tommies finished with double-digit kills, with McKenna Reagan leading the way 18 kills.
The 64-team field for the NCAA Division III Volleyball Championships will be revealed at 10 a.m. CT on Monday, November 5. The selection show can be viewed at