Volleyball downs Gordon for regional championship

Fourth-seeded volleyball (36-5) defeated Wellesley (22-6), the top seed and host, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday before beating Gordon for the regional title.

In the finals, Williams swept second-seeded Gordon (35-2), whose defeat by the Ephs was only their second loss of the season. The Ephwomen asserted themselves in the first game, claiming it 30-25, and then found a steady rhythm, clinching the next two games 30-19 and 30-20. With the win, the Ephwomen have advanced to the quarterfinals of the NESCAC Tournament.

The Ephs were led offensively by Joyia Chadwick ’05, who earlier in the week was named NESCAC Player of the Year. Chadwick proved she deserves the honor, tallying four blocks and 24 kills in this match, including 12 kills on 14 attempts in the third, with an outstanding .676 hitting percentage.

Chadwick was joined at the top of the stat sheet by Annie Denison ’06 and Robin Young ’05, who each registered double doubles in kills and digs on the match. Denison scored 11 kills and 10 digs, while Young had 10 kills and 11 digs, along with four service aces.

Setter Meg Demment ’05 also stood out in the match, both for her assists, and for her skill in quarterbacking the squad and keeping the team focused.

“This was such a team win,” Head Coach Fran Vandermeer said. “They are an inspired group of players who really wanted to win the regional.”

To reach that celebratory finals match against Gordon, the Ephs first had to defeat long-time foe and first-seed Wellesley in the tournament’s second round. Williams had fallen to Wellesley in the Hall of Fame Tournament earlier this season. It was a five-game heart-breaker, but a match in which the Lady Ephs proved they could play with the Blue.

Just like in that earlier showdown, Williams stormed out of the gate on Saturday with a 2-0 lead, 30-25 and 30-27, winning the clutch points when it counted. Unlike the team’s earlier defeat, the Ephwomen finished the job in this match after dropping the third game 26-30 by clawing to a fourth game victory 33-31.

In the final extra-points game, in which Wellesley had a raucous home-crowd on its side, the maturity and heart of the youthful Ephs really came through, as they out-battled a more experienced Wellesley squad for all of the do-or-die wins.

Chadwick again carried the load for the Ephs on offense, finishing with 18 kills on a .457 hitting percentage. Chadwick’s consistency and lack of errors allowed Williams to take chances on offense and play aggressively at the net, a tactic which paid off handsomely.

Joining Chadwick up-front, Denison tied her sophomore counterpart in kills with 18 to also lead the team in that category. Young continued her versatile and gritty play, tallying 15 kills and a team-high 21 digs, alternating seamlessly between soaring above the net for a kill and sprawling out for a dig as her team needed her.

Though her name may not jump off the score sheet, Akilah Rogers ’04 also deserves mention for her clutch play, coming up with several key blocks at the net when the game hung in the balance.

To begin its tournament run, Williams, only the fourth seed, first faced a strong fifth-seeded Western Connecticut (20-15) squad. The Ephs’ performance in the match, which they swept 30-18, 30-23 and 30-21, functioned as a wake-up call for the rest of the teams in the tournament that the Ephs’ low seed was no indication of what their performance in the tournament would be.

In addition to their regional title of the NCAA tournament, the Ephwomen also received good news from the NESCAC this week: Chadwick captured conference Player of the Year honors, while Young made the first-team all tournament team and Demment made the second-team. While the ladies rightfully do not focus on individual achievements, as each of their victories is truly a team win, the recognition from the conference was nonetheless appreciated.

Looking forward from the regional championship, the Ephs now advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Div. III Tournament, where they will face Juniata College (33-4) from Huntingdon, Penn. this Saturday.

Juniata has reached the national playoffs every year for the past 22 seasons, and advances to the quarterfinals by virtue of winning the Mid-Atlantic regional sections. Juniata was ranked fifth in the last national Div. III poll.

While Juniata is clearly a strong national power, the Ephwomen, with their domination of highly-regarded Wellesley, have proven their ability to win in an underdog role. Additionally, the strong national schedule that Vandermeer assembled, which included an early season showdown with number one ranked Cal-Howard, has prepared the Ephs for exactly this sort of situation.