Volleyball falls to Jeffs in 1st round

Amherst (30-4) knocked volleyball (28-8) out of the NCAA tournament in the regional semifinals on Friday. It was a startling upset for the Ephs, the second seed in the region, who had claimed the NESCAC championship from the Jeffs two weeks ago. The defeat ended the 2007 season for Williams, but Amherst, the third seed, continued its tournament run with a win against the regional first seed MIT, and will play Juniata College in the NCAA quarterfinals tomorrow.

Before Friday’s match, Williams and Amherst had each claimed a victory over the other this season. Amherst captured the regular season win in October while Williams beat Amherst in the NESCAC championship match two weeks ago.

Amherst had the upper hand on Friday, earning a 3-2 (24-30, 30-27, 30-23, 21-30, 15-11) victory against Williams. Williams won the opening game, but Amherst rebounded to take games two and three. The Ephs battled hard for the comeback, winning game four by the largest margin of the match, but fell behind early in the fifth as Amherst pushed for the win.

Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11 and Melissa Pun ’10 led the offensive attack for the Ephs, recording 19 and 17 kills, respectively. Ballon-Landa also put up 10 blocks, while Pun tallied 22 digs. Setter Emily Avis ’11 notched 60 assists and 16 digs. Libero Chelsea Kubal ’10 contributed 31 digs on defense, while co-captain Riki McDermott ’09 recorded 15 digs of her own. The Amherst effort was led by senior tri-captain Jaclyn DeMais, who recorded 30 kills and 24 digs.

The Ephs cruised through the opening round of the NCAA tournament last Thursday with a 3-0 victory against the regional seventh seed, Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU). Despite its losing record of 11-26, ECSU capitalized on a late season run to earn a berth into the NCAA tournament. Against 10 common opponents this season, the Ephs were 10-2, the ECSU Warriors 1-9. Thus it was no surprise when the heavily favored Williams squad made quick work of its opponent in three games (30-24, 30-22, 30-13). Ballon-Landa led the Ephs with 17 kills and an impressive hitting percentage of 0.483. Pun served 25 balls with three aces and only one error, also contributing 11 digs. Kubal recorded a team-high 17 digs, and Avis set for 38 assists and 10 digs.

This year’s post-season bid marked the Ephs’ eighth appearance in the NCAA tournament. Williams reached the NCAA quarterfinals in each of the last three tournament showings (2002-2004), and at least the Round of 16 or deeper in their last five NCAA appearances. While the 2007 Ephs made the earliest tournament exit in recent years, the young team topped off the season with a strong winning record of (28-8, 9-1 in the NESCAC), the NESCAC championship title and a host of individual conference and regional accolades. “I am so proud of this young team,” said Head Coach Fran Vandermeer. “We had an excellent season and there is only excitement for next year.”

Ballon-Landa was named NESCAC Rookie of the Year last week, marking the second consecutive year that a Williams player has earned this distinction after Pun ’10 earned last year’s honor. Ballon-Landa was third in the league in hitting percentage at 0.277 and fifth in the conference in blocks, with 1.0 per game. She also recorded 2.76 kills per game and 29 service aces on the season. Named Second Team All-NESCAC, New England Region Freshman of the Year and New England Region Honorable Mention by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, Ballon-Landa finishes an outstanding season as one of the best first-years in New England.

Two sophomores, opposite Cahlan and all-around phenom Pun, were both named first-team All-NESCAC, improving on their 2006 second-team honors. Cahlan burst onto the stage in the second half of the season and finished the season ranked near the top of the conference leader board in hitting percentage with 0.260. Pun, who played nearly every position on the court at some point this season, was eighth in the conference in kills (3.07 per game) and 10th in digs at 4.35. Pun and classmate Kubal also earned All-New England (All-American honorable mention) selections.

Another standout first-year, Avis, was named the NESCAC Player of the Week for Nov. 5 after she led the Ephs to the conference championship two weeks ago. During the NESCAC tournament, Avis racked up 160 assists for an average of 14.5 per game. Avis also set a championship-match record contributing 71 assists in the 3-2 victory over Amherst.

The players were not the only Ephs garnering honors this season, as Vandermeer was named NESCAC Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.

With the graduation of Liz Hirschhorn ’08 this spring, the Ephs will look to their lone ’09, McDermott, to lead a talented group of returning sophomore and juniors next year.