Second NCAA Division III volleyball title more memorable for Plum grad Jenny McDowell
Jenny McDowell didn’t want to put any added pressure on her Emory College women’s volleyball team than they already had placed on themselves coming into the 2018 season.
The Plum native and veteran coach hoped her team would be able to cap the season with a trip to the NCAA Division III women’s volleyball national tournament in Pittsburgh.
The added fun, she said, of having the tournament in her hometown — Duquesne serves as the host site — would put the experience over the top.
In the end, Emory came to Pittsburgh, saw the competition and conquered the field to claim the program’s first national title since 2008.
“This was a dream come true to have the opportunity to go home and compete for a national championship,” said McDowell, a 1984 Plum graduate and a 2005 inductee into the school’s sports hall of fame.
“After the match, and we were in the locker room after the celebration, I said to my players, ‘You guys have given me a gift.’ To be able to do it in front of family and some very good friends, it was such an amazing feeling.”
McDowell said her players were great throughout the three games in Pittsburgh, partly because theye were in the city a month earlier for a four-pack of University Athletic Conference games.
“We played pretty well when we were in Pittsburgh in October,” McDowell said. “So, when we landed for the national tournament, they felt comfortable with the surroundings. (Fellow conference member) Carnegie Mellon was nice enough to let us practice at their facility before the tournament started. We felt relaxed and right at home.”
The national title capped a 30-6 season. Emory won 17 of its final 18 matches, and that stretch started with the 4-0 trip to Pittsburgh in mid-October.
The Eagles went 10-0 in November, and lost just one game as it captured conference and regional championships. It beat Ithaca, 3-1, in the national quarterfinals.
Juniata brought a large contingent of fans to the semifinals, but Emory turned away the fellow national power in the three-game sweep.
Emory rolled into the national finals, stormed past top seed Calvin, 3-0, and hoisted the championship trophy.
“The amount of matches we won 3-0 against ranked opponents along the way was remarkable,” McDowell said. “We were just taking it one set at a time, but we were playing so well as a team at the end.”
The Eagles earned a spot in the NCAA final four for the sixth time and first time since 2014.
The program captured the 2008 title in Bloomington, Ill., and for her efforts that season, McDowell was recognized as the American Volleyball Coaches Association National Division II Coach of the Year.
McDowell took over as coach at Emory in 1996, and the Eagles have made the NCAA Division III national tournament every season since.
Her record stands at 745-166.
McDowell wasn’t the only local product reveling in the opportunity to win a national title at home.
Maggie Rimmell, a sophomore middle hitter who graduated from Mt. Lebanon, got the chance to experience the magic with her own sizeable group of family members and friends at A.J. Palumbo Center.
“It was definitely an extra motivator to get home for the national tournament and have my family there watching,” Rimmell said. “We had so much confidence and just went out and played our best.”
McDowell said she and Rimmell got several chances to talk and share special moments about their return home.
“When we came out of the (Fort Pitt Tunnel) when we came in from the airport, Maggie and I joked and said everyone had to be quiet and we’re going to have heaven on earth as you come out of the tunnel,” McDowell said. “There’s just something so special about Pittsburgh, and it was great to be home.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at email@example.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.