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Brenner leads MNE to first NJCAA Tournament

Photo submitted to the Times Observer Rachel Brenner shows her District MVP trophy following Mercyhurst-North East’s win over Harcum College in the district tournament. Brenner had 25 kills in the title match to lead the Saints to their first-ever NJCAA Tournament appearance.

For the first time in program history, the Mercyhurst North East Saints volleyball team is heading to nationals. The lady Saints headed to Lackawanna CC Nov. 3-5 with one thing on their mind, winning the district championship and that is exactly what they did. It took five games but the Saints were able to defeat Harcum CC 15-11 in the final set.

The road through districts was a breeze for the Saints until the final match. They were dominant in the opener against Delaware Tech, winning 3-1. In the game against Delaware Tech, freshman Rachel Brenner had 12 kills and 15 digs to lead the charge for the Saints. Erin Froehlich contributed 11 kills and 11 digs.

Next up was the Community College of Rhode Island, where again, the saints were victorious three sets to one. Brenner was a dominant force again adding 13 kills and 14 digs while Froehlich chipped 12 kills of her own. Rebecca Winkleman added 13 digs to the winning effort.

The Saints third opponent of the weekend was Lackawanna CC. In a word the Saints dominated. Winning three games to zero. Punching their ticket to the district finals. In the victory, everyone on the team contributed. Six out of seven players registered points. Four players had six kills or more and 6 out of 7 starters added digs to scoresheet.

Heading into the district final, Head Coach Rachel Pacholke had mixed emotions. “A goal of ours this year was to just qualify for the district tournament. When we were approaching the district championship, I was not sure how to handle it. You dream of it for so long, for it to actually be happening was very emotional for me. I kept telling the girls ‘ one game at a time’ and now we really only had one game to win. I am so proud of this team.”

The finals saw the Saints matched up against a tough Harcum College team. In a back and forth affair the Saints dropped the first set 25-20. Set two went to the Saints 25-17. In the third set the Saints claimed a 26-24 victory before dropping set four 25-21. This set up a winner take all championship. First to 15 points. After falling behind early the Saints rallied to come back and take the lead, and they would not relinquish it. Winning the final set and the district championship 15-11.

For a team compiled of all freshman, this is an exciting time for Mercyhurst North East volleyball. Along with winning the title, the Saints had some impressive individual feats as well. Brenner, a 2018 homeschool graduate from Spring Creek and Warren County Christian School volleyball alum, won the district tournament MVP and Emily Smith broke the single season school record for aces.

The National tournament is set for November 15-17 in Charleston, WV at the Charleston Civic Center.

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