Volleyball goes 2-1 against NESCAC foes

Volleyball (8-2, 2-1) returned to the east coast this weekend to kick off its NESCAC play at Hamilton in the NESCAC weekend. Its successful performance in the event has the team feeling positive about its chances in the NESCAC this season.

Overall, the Ephs were 2-1 on the weekend, with straight game victories over Bowdoin (4-3, 1-2) and Bates (4-3, 2-1), and a single close loss at the hands of the White Mules of Colby (7-2, 3-0).

Despite the fact that all of the Ephs’ matches were either won or lost in straight games, the NESCAC this year is not at all one-sided. Any squad has the potential to win any match, and so this season should be an intriguing one.

The one exception to that rule is perhaps the Ephs’ first match of the weekend, against the Polar Bears of Bowdoin on Friday night. The Ephs not only won in straight games, 30-12, 30-11, 30-14, the Polar Bears did not even score half as many points as did the Ephs in any of the games.

“They were simply overmatched,” Head Coach Fran Vandermeer said of the Polar Bears. “They made a lot of costly errors on their side of the net.”

The entire team played fine matches, which in turn showed up in the balanced statistics. Annie Denison ’06 and middle blockers Akilah Rogers ’04 and Joyia Chadwick ’05 led the team defensively with seven blocks apiece. Denison also fired an impressive eight service aces, while Rogers led the team at the net with seven kills.

Chadwick added five kills to the offensive effort, while Kate Sauerhoff ’06 also chipped in handily with four kills.

The match was lopsided for Williams, but it displayed the dominance of the Ephs, who feature perhaps the youngest talent in the NESCAC, more than any poor play on the part of Bowdoin, a strong, middle-of-the-pack club.

The morning after the Bowdoin rout, the Ephs were flying high and on a roll, but their run of victories came to an end at the unheralded hoofs of the White Mules of Colby. The Ephs lost the match in three close games, 28-30, 27-30 and 23-30.

Williams was perhaps overconfident going into the match with Colby, which had just lost to Bates 3-0, and consequently, they played sloppily. Their passing seemed out of touch, and they committed several costly service and defensive errors.

“We knew that Bates had just beat Colby 3-0, so I think that we may have been looking past them somewhat,” Vandermeer said on her team’s defeat, “Our defense was probably the weakest point. We didn’t get digs that we could then set, and we sort of panicked and had no go-to presence.”

“Overall, we just weren’t as crisp as we could have been,” Robin Young ’05 said. “We didn’t play to our potential, and Colby really capitalized on that.”

Nonetheless, the Ephs’ lack of focus would not have hurt them so much had Colby not played extraordinarily well. Perhaps motivated by their earlier loss, the White Mules were on their game the entire match, getting kills from every position on 26 assists from their setter, Kimberly Prescott.

“I give a lot of credit to Colby,” Vandermeer said. “They touched everything on D, finished plays and really put the pressure on.”

The Colby match brought the Ephs back to reality and focused them on their goal of winning the NESCAC by winning one match at a time. To that goal, the Ephwomen bounced back from their defeat with poise and character, downing a powerful Bates squad in straight games, 30-25, 30-28, 30-28.

“I think we really picked up our level of intensity and picked up our level of play against Bates,” Young said. “Our defense was really on that game. We played together very well. We played as a team the whole match.”

Improved defense and teamwork proved to be the key to the team’s revival, as the Ephwomen consistently translated those strengths into transition points and successful rallies.

Individually, Young led the team on defense with 14 digs, while Sarah Hack ’06 and Kate Sauerhoff ’06 also played with energy in the team’s effort.

The Eph offense benefited from improved defense and crisper passing. This was most clearly evidenced in the statistics of superb setter Meg Demment ’05, who was named NESCAC Player of the Week for her play out west.

Because of the team’s more precise passing, Demment raised her assists from 27 in the Colby game to a whopping 39 against Bates. As for the rest of the offense, Chadwick, who was named to the all-tournament team in last weekend’s play, led the team with 12 kills, while Denison joined her in double digits with 10.

Perhaps more importantly, the hitters as a whole committed almost no hitting errors or mental mistakes.

“I’m so proud of our team’s ability to refocus,” Vandermeer said. “This was really the type of match that could go either way.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘gut check,’ but instead of getting down after the first game, we chalked it up to experience, and just got ready for [Bates].”

“Overall, we played well,” Young said, “and we played together.”

Volleyball has the middle part of the week off before traveling to Brandeis on Friday for the Brandeis Invitational. There, the Ephs will continue their conquest of top national opponents against Coast Guard, Plymouth State, St. Joseph (ME) and the host.