Volleyball downs Amherst for championship

Joyia Chadwick ’05, the Ephs’ powerful middle-blocker, looked straight ahead. Battling third-seeded Amherst’s tall front-line in the final game of the championship match of the NESCAC Tournament, she had just had two strikes blocked. Individuals can react in one of two ways to such a challenge: they can back down, or they can rise up. There was no doubt which way Chadwick would respond.

On the next shot, Meg Demment ’05 placed a ball about one foot above the net directly in front of Chadwick. Chadwick rose up and killed the ball into the leg of an Amherst defender. Thus the Amherst rally ended; thus Williams went on to victory.

Chadwick’s kill was but one of hundreds that Williams’ strikers laid down this past weekend on their way to laying claim to the NESCAC Championship, and the story of the tournament was the determination of the volleyball team in coming together as a team to overcome every obstacle they faced en route to becoming champions.

Volleyball (33-5, 12-1), having won the NESCAC regular season championship, entered the conference tournament as the number one seed, but the ladies had to battle enormously against some very skilled squads to win the tournament and earn the right to represent the NESCAC in the NCAA Tournament next weekend.

In addition to the final match against a talented and well-coached Amherst (8-2) club, which the Ephs swept 3-0 (30-15, 30-27, 30-22), Williams also overcame a five game gut-check against fourth seeded Bates (7-3) in the semifinals (35-37, 30-17, 28-30, 30-19, 15-10) and a less challenging three game sweep of eighth seeded Trinity (30-25, 30-13, 30-20) in the quarterfinals, to claim the championship.

After cruising to victory in the opening match against Trinity, the team faced Bates in what proved to be a scary semifinal contest. Bates was intimidated neither by the Ephs’ number one seed nor the home crowd in Chandler Gymnasium, as the Bobcats set the tone for the match with a grueling, extra-point win, 37-35, in the first game.

The heated competition continued into the second game with Bates leading 9-8 a third of the way through. However, when striker Annie Denison ’06 took the serve, Williams’ front-line of Denison, Robin Young ’05 and Chadwick took control, pushing the Ephs to a comfortable 17-9 lead, which culminated in a 30-17 victory for the game.

Bates took an ultra-competitive game three 30-28 on the strength of two game-ending kills from Liz Wanless, pushing the Ephs to the edge of elimination with a 2-1 deficit in games.

In that do-or-die situation, the team pulled together and found an unstoppable rhythm. After leading Bates 18-14 in the fourth game, the ladies pulled off a 12-5 run to even the match at two games apiece. Then, behind the net domination of Denison, Chadwick, Young and middle blocker Akilah Rogers ’04, the team pounded Bates for a 15-10 fifth game victory.

“Game four was critical for the team,” Head Coach Fran Vandermeer said. “I’m really proud of the way the team played down the stretch.”

Williams’ trial against Bates prepared it well for its championship match against arch-rival Amherst, who earlier beat Middlebury in its semifinal match.

“Bates forced us to play defense at a higher level,” Vandermeer said. “Showing the heart that we did in the fourth and fifth games, I knew we were going to be hard to stop in the Championship.”

The truth of Vandermeer’s hunch came through in the first game of the match, which Williams won 30-15 behind the hustle of Demment, who tallied 48 assists and eight digs for the match.

“[Demment] is phenomenal,” Vandermeer said of her star setter, who played the entire tournament while suffering from an illness. “I could not ask for a better quarterback and floor-leader for our team.”

Amherst adjusted to Williams’ attack in the second game, as its tall front-line began successfully blocking the Ephs’ spikes. However, driven by the energy of Young, whose no-nonsense attitude rubbed off well on a team smelling victory, and the clutch play of Rogers, who stopped three key Amherst runs with decisive blocks, the Ephs won the second game 30-28.

In the third game, the towering duo of Chadwick and Denison exerted themselves defensively at the net, stifling the Lord Jeffs’ attack and stimulating the Eph offense. Finally, off of a winner by Kate Sauerhoff ’06, Williams claimed the match 30-22 and the championship 3-0.

Individually, absolutely every player stepped up in the final match. Chadwick, who notched 16 digs and four blocks, played perhaps her best match of the season, as the sophomore’s unwillingness to be defeated came through time and again when Amherst challenged her.

Denison also came through at both sides of the net, matching Chadwick with 16 kills to go along with eight digs and four service aces. Young, in addition to her 16 digs, also registered double digit kills with 10. Sarah Hack ’06 played a crucial role with her defense and passing, leading the team with 18 digs and often sparking the Eph offense with her crisp passes to Demment.

Rogers, the team’s lone junior, had an outstanding match, particularly in the clutch when the rest of the team seemed to be reeling from an Amherst rally. Rogers consistently stepped up in those situations with a kill or a block that set the Williams machine back on track.

“You can speak about all the individuals on the team,” Vandermeer said, “but in the end, it was a team win. They are a classy bunch of young women. They win with class, and they battle through matches with class.”

Next up for the Ephs is the NCAA Tournament which begins for the fourth-seeded Williams team Thursday at 4:30 p.m. against the fifth-seeded club from Western Connecticut.