Amherst snatches volleyball’s first place spot in NESCAC

It’s hard for anyone to make it to the Hall of Fame, but this past weekend volleyball (18-7, 5-1) finished second of 16 teams at the Volleyball Hall of Fame Women’s Tournament held at Smith College. The top-ranked teams from all over New England attended the tournament, including MIT, Brandeis, Wellesley and NESCAC rivals Amherst, Tufts and Wesleyan. To cap off the successful tournament run, Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11 and Melissa Pun ’10 were awarded All-Tournament honors. Earlier in the week, the Ephs fell in a heartbreaking match to the Jeffs (21-4, 6-1). The loss puts Amherst at the top of the conference standings, ahead of both Williams and Middlebury.

In the championship match of the Hall of Fame tournament, the Ephs went head-to-head with the MIT Engineers, the No. 1 ranked team in New England. The Engineers already defeated Williams this season in the semifinals of the MIT Invitational, and last weekend the Ephs came up short again, falling to MIT in only three games (30-26, 30-25, 30-28). Despite the loss, Head Coach Fran Vandermeer remained positive. “I’m proud of how we fought and we just fell short to a very consistent MIT team,” Vandermeer said.

Setter Emily Avis ’11 set the pace for the offense with 33 assists and 26 digs, while Pun (11 kills, 11 digs), Chelsea Kubal ’10 (16 digs, six kills) and Ballon-Landa (seven kills, four blocks) contributed to the effort. Alicia Cahlan ’10 (five kills) and Andrea Scioscia ’10 (18 digs) also chipped in.

In the tournament’s semi-final match, Williams avenged a defeat from earlier in the season, beating Brandeis, 3-2 (26-30, 30-25, 23-30, 30-28, 15-11). Brandeis took an early 2-1 lead in the match, and the Judges were ahead 20-12 in the fourth game before the Ephs came charging back to win the next two games.

Pun contributed a stellar performance with 19 kills and 17 digs, while Ballon-Landa tallied seven kills, three service aces and five blocks. Kubal (26 digs, 10 kills) contributed an impressive performance on both offense and defense, and co-captain Riki McDermott ’09 added 11 digs.

“We needed a five-game win,” Vandermeer said. “This was a hard fought, come-from-behind win and it will help build up our confidence down the stretch.”

The Ephs reached the championship bracket of the Hall of Fame tournament thanks to victories against both Westfield State and Springfield on Day 1 of the event.

Williams played a quick opening match against Westfield State, finishing the Owls 3-0 (30-17, 30-13, 30-15). The Williams offense was led by Whitney Hitchcock ’10 (five kills) and rookies Elle Levine ’11 (six kills) and Ballon-Landa (11 kills).

The nightcap against Springfield was a closer contest, but Williams was able to string together three winning games for the victory after dropping the opening game (30-32, 30-25, 30-26, 30-23).

“This was a textbook match-up of Springfield and Williams,” said Vandermeer. “This was a really competitive, well-played defensive match by both teams, and it was just a fun one to watch.”

Blocking was a key part of the match, with Hitchcock, Ballon-Landa and Kate Anderson ’11 credited with four blocks apiece. The defense was led by Pun (17 digs, 21 kills), Kubal (14 digs) and McDermott (13 kills).

Volleyball’s wins at the Hall of Fame tournament followed a bitter five-game loss (27-30, 32-30, 30-27, 29-31, 6-15) to archrival Amherst last Tuesday in front of a hostile crowd. Unfazed by the Jeff’s home-court advantage, the Ephs won the second and third games after dropping the opening game of the match. In the thrilling second game Williams jumped out to the largest lead of the night 17-6, only to have Amherst fight back to tie at 20-20. Digging deep, Williams was able to silence the roaring Amherst crowd by making up a seven-point deficit to win the game 32-30.

The Ephs carried the momentum to win the third game, but a breakdown in the fourth game cost Williams the match. Williams was up 17-10 in the fourth game, and was only two points from closing out the match at 28-24 when Amherst charged back for the win.

The Williams effort was led by two first-years, Avis (50 assists, 18 digs, three service aces) and Ballon-Landa, who smashed a team-high 22 kills. The Eph block had great difficulty stopping the attack of Amherst’s star senior Jaclyn DeMais (35 kills, 27 digs), although Kubal and libero Scioscia posted 22 digs and 20 digs on defense, respectively.

The loss to Amherst last Tuesday marked volleyball’s first conference loss since 2005. The Jeffs now take over first place in the conference standings.

Williams will finish their regular season with four straight conference matches against Middlebury, Wesleyan, Connecticut College and Trinity over the next two weeks. Williams will host Middlebury today at 7 p.m. in Chandler Gymnasium.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *