Tommies demolish Golden Knights, advance to first-ever national semifinals

HOLLAND, Mich. — Outside hitter Jill Greenfield’s eight kills guided the St. Thomas volleyball team to a sweep of Clarkson University (N.Y.) in a national quarterfinal Thursday at Hope College.

The win marks the team’s first trip to the national semifinals after falling in the quarterfinals the last two years.

Coach Thanh Pham said it is exciting to finally advance to the next round.

“We were just thinking, it’s nice to plan for the second day,” Pham said. “…this is the first time we’re advancing past the first round.”

Greenfield said the team came into the tournament with a strong drive to reach the national championship.

“This year we just really came determined, focused on our goal which is playing on Saturday,” Greenfield said. “Today is just one more hurdle.”

The team stepped onto the court with composure and confidence. Middle blocker Paige Brimeyer, who hit .571 for the match, put the Tommies on the board when she ripped a kill down the line.

Middle blocker Kelly Foley played a pivotal role in the team’s opening set when she painted the line with a shot, giving the Tommies an early lead. Setter Sarah Kosbab’s ace against the Golden Knights’ serve-receive defense gave the Tommies a 25-13 first set win.

Brimeyer said the team’s cohesion helps it keep moving forward.

“It’s never just focused on one person,” Brimeyer said. “If you’re having a rough day, you know that your teammates (will) be able (to) come in and help out the team.”

St. Thomas’ composure from the first set carried over into the second as setter Katie Maher started the team with one of her two aces in the match. The Knights pushed the Tommies point-by-point in the second set. Clarkson lost momentum when Foley put the set away with a kill, pulling away from the 24-24 score. The second set ended with a 27-25 St. Thomas win.

Pham said the team’s talent spreads across the board.

“That’s one of the strengths of the team,” Pham said. “It makes us tougher to defend when we’re in system.”

With the national semifinals in their sights and the Knights’ season on the line, both teams came out firing in the third set. Defensive specialist Kaiti Wachter saved a point when she sprawled out for a Clarkson hit. Wachter had 18 of the team’s 47 digs.

It wasn’t until Foley and outside hitter Nicole Potts posted a double block that the team surged ahead in the third set for good. Greenfield ended the match with her second solo block of the match to give the Tommies a match-winning, 25-20 third set victory.

St. Thomas will play in the national semifinals against the winner of Salisbury University (Md.) or Elmhurst College (Ill.) Friday in hopes of securing a first-ever national championship appearance.

Pham said it feels good to win, but the team is striving for the national title.

“We go into every match hoping that we’ll play our best,” Pham said. “We’ll let the wins and losses take care of themselves.”

Sean Crotty can be reached at