Volleyball struts its stuff at Williams Invitational

Volleyball (16-3; 2-1 in the NESCAC) celebrated the Williams Invitational this weekend in Chandler Gymnasium by beating every team it faced, including the Pride of Springfield (11-2) – considered one of the best teams in New England – and Colby (12-4; 3-0), who had beaten the Ephs two weeks ago.

The Ephs led off the weekend Friday night against Springfield in what was supposed to be a grueling, five-game slug-fest. However, Williams came through with a convincing three-game trouncing of the Pride 30-11, 30-23, 30-27.

Coming into the first with something to prove, the Ephs set the tone for the rest of the match with a 13-1 opening run. Joyia Chadwick ’05 led the run with her dominating blocking at the net.

From there, setter Meg Demment ’05 guided the team to victory, setting up Chadwick, middle-blocker Akilah Rogers ’04 and standout Annie Denison ’06 for dominating kills and a 30-11 thrashing.

“Our players came out with so much intensity tonight,” Head Coach Fran Vandermeer said. “As a result, we did all the little things right and had our best defensive game in three years in game one.”

Game two saw the Pride stay with Williams for a 13-13 mid-game tie, but then Springfield, shaken some by the dominating blocking of Chadwick, began to slip, which manifested itself in several costly service and spiking errors. The Ephs made few such mistakes and tallied a 30-23 win.

The third game, which Williams won 30-27, was close in score but ultimately an Eph victory was never really in doubt. Vandermeer rested many of her starters in preparation for the next day’s action, and the substitutes proved more than capable of shouldering their load.

“Springfield was not what we expected tonight,” Vandermeer said. “I think because we came out so strongly and because we had a rowdy home crowd, Springfield was never really able to set their tempo in the match – we made a strong opening statement tonight.”

The next day, the Ephs faced Colby-Sawyer, Colby and Endicott College. Colby looks to be one of the Ephs’ stronger opponents in the NESCAC, and since Williams had already lost to them once, this match would carry special significance.

However, before they could exact their revenge, the Ephwomen first had to take care of business against the team from Colby-Sawyer, whom they beat handily in straight games, 30-8, 30-28 and 30-18.

From the get-go, when the Ephs began with a 13-3 run, it was clear that Williams was simply too strong of a squad for Colby-Sawyer to handle.

Chadwick, who finished with 17 kills, pounded the Chargers the entire match, while Rachel Riucci ’06 and Michelle Kron ’04 came through with kills in clutch situations. Denison also had nine kills and Demment chipped in 37 assists. Sarah Hack ’06 posted nine digs on defense.

“It was very important for us to take care of business in this match,” Vandermeer said. “I can’t stress enough the importance of not having a drop-off of intensity when we go to our bench. Our bench has been reliable all season long and has allowed players to rest and stay healthy. We really have a deep squad.”

That bench played a key role in the Ephs’ second victory of the day, in which they paid Colby back in four games 30-18, 30-23, 22-30 and 30-20.

Williams’ machine proved effective from the get-go against Colby, and the Ephs jumped out to a 17-5 lead in the first game. Equally impressive was the Ephs’ ability to improvise when their dominant players were not present, such as when Vandermeer rested both Denison and Chadwick.

In that situation, Rogers handled the lion’s share of the blocking duties, workhorse Robin Young ’05 received even more of the kills than usual and Kron and Hack ensured that nothing hit the ground in the back.

Such teamwork led the Ephs to convincing wins in the first two games, but the team seemed to lose some steam momentarily with one game to go, and Colby outside hitter Cait Cleaver caught fire as Colby pulled out the third game 22-30.

The Ephs regrouped on defense, however, and returned to their bread and butter of Chadwick, Young and Denison offensively for a commanding victory in the last game and the match.

“It was very important for us to come out on top in this second match because both teams played very hard and had to fight through some interesting officiating,” Vandermeer said. “To lose a match like that would have been a huge letdown for our team.”

After that exciting win against a top NESCAC opponent, the Ephs got something of a break when they faced the Gulls of Endicott in their final match of the tournament. While the Gulls played tough and featured some very skilled strikers, they simply did not have the size or talent to keep up with the Ephs, who won in straight games 30-20, 32-30 and 30-8.

Williams almost let Endicott steal the second game out from under them, but that close contest seemed to wake the Ephs up, and they handily won the finale. Earlier in the week on Tuesday, Williams traveled to Hartford to face NESCAC foe Trinity (6-10, 1-3), whom the Ephs beat in three games 30-22, 30-24 and 32-30. The match was coming off of a tough West Coast road trip for the Ephs, but the ladies still had the energy to bring home the victory.

“I was proud to see the girls push through after such a long weekend,” Vandermeer said. “It was a great moral victory for us.”

Next up for the Ephs is a match tomorrow night at home at 7 p.m. versus Smith College, who beat Trinity in straight games this weekend. The Ephs will travel to Tufts this weekend for the first of two back-to-back NESCAC weekends, which will largely determine where Williams finishes in its conference. Considering what they have accomplished thus far, the ladies are rightfully optimistic about their prospects.