Volleyball smites Little Three foes, is top in the NESCAC

Volleyball (30-5; 9-1 in the NESCAC) played its part in Saturday’s homecoming festivities by dominating both of the college’s top rivals, Amherst (19-6; 8-2) and Wesleyan (21-10; 6-4).

The Ephwomen entered the weekend after a disappointing mid-week loss to the Brewers of Vassar College (30-32, 30-26, 30-23, 30-18) in which the ladies did not play to their defensive capabilities.

“We really felt frustrated in the Vassar match,” middle-blocker Joyia Chadwick ’05 said, “That was an assault to our pride when Vassar was able to take it to us on defense. We wanted to prove ourselves this weekend.”

The Ephs solution to that problem was immediately apparent on Saturday, when the ladies’ impressive defensive performance led them to dominating wins over two high-scoring clubs and two of their top challengers in the upcoming NESCAC tournament.

The Ephwomen began the day with a three-game sweep of Amherst. They only allowed 12 points in the first game, setting the tone for the rest of the match. Amherst fared slightly better in the second game, managing to amass 25 points on its way to defeat. However, the Ephwomen again exerted their defensive dominance, and they allowed a mere 18 points in the final game.

Against Wesleyan, the results were quite similar, as Williams again swept its rival, and in none of the three games did the Cardinals manage more than 24 points.

The ladies’ defensive domination began at the net with the play of Chadwick, who in the humblest of fashions consistently prevented both teams from finding either an offensive rhythm or a striker who could penetrate her blocks.

“[Defense] is something we really pride ourselves on,” Chadwick said. “It is something our team really stresses overall. It was a lot of our focus in practice this week as well.”

Joining Chadwick at the net, Robin Young ’05 also executed in both matches with great precision, receiving the bulk of the assists from perhaps the best setter in the NESCAC, Meg Demment ’05.

That core sophomore threesome of Chadwick, Young and Demment has played well in almost every match this season, and this one was no exception. Demment, who is such a skillful setter that one tends to forget how hard her job as floor-general really is, committed almost no errors offensively, and she also contributed much on the defensive end, particularly at the net and with digs.

Young scored four consecutive points at one juncture, and she led the diggers on defense, covering the floor like a hawk en route to finishing with double-digits in that department.

“We play really well together,” Chadwick said of herself and her sophomore cohorts. “We are very comfortable with each other. We know each other’s tendencies. It is a good feeling to know that we know each other so well.”

Also playing a huge role in the match were Akilah Rogers ’04 and Annie Denison ’06. Rogers has distinguished herself this year with her clutch blocking and her skillful tips at the net. This weekend, particularly in the second game against Amherst, it seemed that every time the momentum of the match lay in the balance, Rogers came through with a timely strike.

Denison has emerged as the most prominent member of the Ephs’ strong first-year class, who have welcomed the contributions of the youth movement with open arms.

“It has been great,” Chadwick said of the work of her new partners at the net. “I had no idea coming into this season what the level of play of our first-years would be. That they have made such contributions has been absolutely fantastic.”

Denison distinguished herself on Saturday, not only with strong kills at the net, but also with her serving, a department in which the whole team seemed to step up its play.

“Our serving this weekend was really good,” Chadwick said. “We really minimized a lot of our errors. We put a lot of pressure on both Wesleyan and Amherst with tough serves.”

Both the serving and the defense kept Amherst and Wesleyan out of rhythm, and with the front-line doing its work on the offensive end, the recipe was set for victory.

Looking forward, the domination of Amherst proved particularly uplifting, not only because the rivalry with Amherst is so heated, but also because the Lord Jeffs are the third seed in this weekend’s NESCAC tournament.

Williams, having won the regular-season NESCAC crown with a 9-1 conference record, earned the honor of hosting the event, which kicks off this Friday evening in Chandler Gymnasium with the Ephs hosting the eighth-seeded Bantams of Trinity. The Ephs are the tournament favorite, but having already fallen to Colby once this year, the Ephwomen know they must prepare themselves for anything.

“We are pretty confident,” Chadwick said of the upcoming event, “but we really have to keep reminding ourselves that anything can happen. We’ve seen it all season, both with ourselves and other teams. There is not that much you can predict about volleyball. We are confident, but we have to be ready for anything.”