UW-Eau Claire volleyball is back in the Final Four for the second time in just four years. The program, which had never even made the Elite Eight before its 2018 run, is once again in prime position to secure its first ever national championship.

The Blugolds earned a tight sweep of Tufts University Thursday afternoon in St. Louis, getting 18 kills from Arianna Barrett and 13 digs from Taylor Scalia to advance out of the Elite Eight 25-23, 25-15, 27-25.

UW-Eau Claire’s next challenger is a daunting foe, the top-seeded Juniata Eagles. A large contingent of Blugolds fans made the trip to Missouri to help push them into the semifinals.

“Our community, our fans have been so great,” Barrett said. “Having them drive all the way here to support us even more is an amazing feeling.”

UW-Eau Claire took control of the first set when a 9-0 run gave the Blugolds a 19-12 advantage. The Jumbos answered with a 9-2 run of their own to force a 21-21 tie, but the Blugolds weathered the storm and sealed the set with a cross-court kill from Jordan Witzel.

The second set was UW-EC’s most dominant. The Blugolds never trailed and led by 10 four times, starting at 19-9.

Tufts led for much of the third. The Jumbos broke a 14-14 tie with two straight points, a lead they held on to until a pair of Barrett kills forced a 22-22 tie. The teams tied again at 23, 24 and 25 before the Blugolds ended Tufts’ season with kills from Witzel and Kendra Baierl.

Outside of Barrett, it was a rather balanced showing when it comes to kills. Makenzie Bachmann and Witzel each had nine, while Baierl was close behind with seven.

“We all had a pretty high number of kills,” Baierl said. “I think that helps us a lot in games.”

Charlie Nelson, Barrett, and Bachmann each had 11 digs.

Now it’s on to the Final Four, where the Blugolds fell to Calvin three years ago.

To say Juniata is a staple of the NCAA volleyball tournament would be an understatement. The Eagles have never missed the tourney, having made 40 consecutive appearances thanks to 40 consecutive conference championships. This year’s team has lost only once, falling to a Johns Hopkins squad good enough to host an NCAA Tournament regional in the second match of the season.

Juniata defeated MIT Thursday in four sets, surviving a set three win by the Engineers, to push its winning streak to 31 matches. It earned two sweeps in regional play, including the final against Wesleyan, and survived a five-set thriller in the semis against Babson.

The group is led by three AVCA All-Americans, Victoria Taylor, Olivia Floey and Kiona Sky Rousset-Hernandez. The Blugolds have their own trio of All-Americans to balance things out in Baierl, Nelson and Barrett.

Action between the squads from the campus of Washington University in St. Louis begins at 5 p.m. Saturday. If the Blugolds pull off the upset, they’ll play in the national championship match on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“They’re a storied program in Division III,” UW-EC coach Kim Wudi said of Juniata. “They’ve won a lot of matches and they’ve had a great, great season. But you know, we talk about this a lot. It’s the next up. We’re going to prepare the heck out of our team.”