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NKU Wins Horizon League Volleyball Title, Advances to NCAA Tournament

Northern Kentucky's volleyball team won the Horizon League title on Sunday, advancing to the NCAA Tournament next month.

The Norse (19-12) beat the Milwaukee Panthers (26-6) in straight sets 25-17, 25-20, 25-13, to earn an automatic bid into the 2019 NCAA Volleyball Championship and extend to an eight-match winning streak.

It is the first Horizon title for the NKU program, and the third program within NKU athletics to advance to the NCAA Tournament since the school advanced to the Division I level. The men's basketball team advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2019. The women's soccer team advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2016. Men’s golf has also had an individual qualifier after Jacob Poore won the Horizon League title in 2018.

NKU's Laura Crawford was named tournament MVP after averaging 3.00 kills, 3.50 digs, 0.80 blocks, and 0.50 aces per set over the course of NKU’s three victories in the tournament. Crawford finished the championship match with seven kills and a match-high 15 digs to go with four blocks.

Shelby Olsen and Abby Kanakry were also named to the all-tournament team. Olsen averaged 6.90 assists and 1.70 digs per set, while Kanakry had 2.90 kps at a .406 clip to go with 1.00 block per set.

Olsen had 19 assists in the championship game, while Kanakry added nine kills and four blocks.

Anna Brinkmann led the Norse offense in the match, putting away 11 kills at a .400 clip. She also added 10 digs and a pair of blocks.

NKU will find out where it will play next when the 2019 NCAA Volleyball Championship selection show airs on Sunday, December 1 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU. The first and second rounds will be held on December 5-7 at campus sites.

NKU Volleyball Adds Six Recruits, Some with Local Ties

Northern Kentucky volleyball head coach Liz Hart announced the addition of six student-athletes who will join the Norse for the 2020 campaign: Zoe Epplen, Torie Houston, Lillian Leiner, Allie Siefke, Skyy Smith, and Katy Yopko.

“The 2020 recruiting class is one of the largest classes with have brought in,” said Hart.  “They bring a great mix of talent and athleticism with a competitive drive.  We are excited to add their talents with our returners!”    

Epplen, from Wilder and St. Henry District High School was a second-team all-state honoree in 2019 and was named to the All A State All-Tournament Team in both 2017 and 2018 in addition to being named the 34th District MVP as a junior. Epplen amassed 839 kills over her four-year varsity career and was also a large presence at the net with over 200 career blocks.

“Zoe is a very versatile player who attacks from a high point and can hit some difficult angles," Hart said. "Her IQ and composure help her make great choices on the pin.” 

Houston, of Wilder and Holy Cross High School, was named to the all-region first team in 2018 and 2019, and was also the MVP of the All A State Tournament. The setter/hitter combo player led the Indians in both kills and assists, earning KVCA All-State Second-Team honors. Houston’s family is no stranger to NKU as her cousin, Jayden Julian, was on the NKU volleyball team from 2013-16.

“Torie is a very talented setter with great hands, aggressiveness, and strength," Harts said. "Torie really works to turn bad passes into great opportunities for her hitters.  Additionally, Torie brings an attacking option with her heavy arm.”

Leiner is Indianapolis, Indiana

Siefke comes to NKU from Saint Ursula Academy in Cincinnati.

Smith is from Brownsburg High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Yopko is from Lake Catholic High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

-Staff report