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Local Sports

Women's volleyball: Shook in D-I Sweet 16, Leitshuh in D-II quarterfinals

Given the choice, most college freshmen athletes probably would prefer to not have to succeed a two-time All-American who not only is one of their school’s all-time leaders at the position, but also helped the program to two consecutive trips to the national finals.

But that’s just the position that University of Texas women’s volleyball setter Ashley Shook found herself in this season, and based on the Longhorns’ success, it’s safe to say the Plainfield Central graduate has done well in a challenging situation.

Shook, last year’s Herald-News Player of the Year, certainly has risen to the occasion, filling the shoes that were left by her predecessor, Chloe Collins, a second-team AVCA All-American last year and a third-team AVCA All-American in 2015.

Collins finished her Texas career with 3,687 assists, which was the fourth-highest total in the program’s history. With her directing the attack and handing out more than 1,300 assists in both her junior and senior years, the Longhorns fell in the 2016 NCAA Division I championship match to Stanford and lost in the 2015 title match to Nebraska.

Despite having a new setter this season, Texas seems to be in a good spot to make another run at its sixth straight Final Four appearance and perhaps even contend for its first national championship since 2012.

That’s because the Longhorns are ranked second in the nation and own a 26-2 record as they head into this week’s regional at Stanford. They’ll meet 24-9 Utah in Friday’s regional opener and would meet either 28-3 Stanford or 22-9 Wisconsin in Saturday’s championship. The four regional winners advance to the Final Four next weekend in Kansas City.

Texas dropped its season opener to Florida and suffered its last loss on Sept. 8 to then top-ranked Minnesota. The Longhorns have won 20 in a row since that time and have moved up in the rankings from fifth to second, where they’re ranked behind Penn State in the AVCA poll. The Longhorns advanced to their 12th straight Sweet 16 with a 3-0 win over North Carolina State in which Shook had 36 assists and seven digs.

Shook has handed out 1,063 assists this season and owns the sixth-highest assists/set total in school history (10.85), ranking even ahead of Collins’ mark from last season. Playing in all 28 of her teams matches, she also has collected 73 kills, 55 blocks and 231 digs. In a Nov. 1 match at Kansas State, she had season-bests in assists (55) and kills (seven).

Beside being selected as the Big 12 Conference’s Freshman of the Week three times (Nov. 20, Oct. 23 and Oct. 2), she was named to the conference’s All-Freshman team and also earned a spot on the All-Big 12 second team, one of six Longhorns to earn all-league recognition.

Leitshuh in D-II Quarterfinals

While Lewis University fell one win shy of earning a second straight appearance in the NCAA Division Elite Eight, a local player will get the opportunity to compete in that tournament, which starts today and runs through Saturday in Pensacola, Florida.

Toni Leitshuh, a sophomore outside hitter who graduated from Lincoln-Way Central, is a member of the team from Gannon University, which is located in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The 31-6 Golden Knights earned their first trip to the quarterfinals since 1993 when they upset Wheeling Jesuit 3-0 to win the Atlantic Regional championship in Wheeling, West Virginia. Leitshuh paced her team in that match by recording 11 digs.

For the season, Leitshuh has played in 36 matches and has collected 458 digs, 174 kills, 45 aces and 21 blocks, ranking second on the Golden Knights in both digs and aces. She had 13 kills in three different matches and a season-best 24 digs against Roberts Wesleyan.

Gannon, the seventh-seed in the tournament, faces second-seed Regis University, which is 31-3, for the chance to meet either Florida Southern or Cal State San Bernardino in Friday’s semifinals. Flagler, Rockhurst, Concordia-St. Paul and New Haven are in the other bracket.

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