Volleyball beats Jeffs in 4 to claim conference title

Volleyball (25-12) kept its season alive by winning the NESCAC championship last weekend for the second year in a row. The women traveled to Tufts with the fourth seed in the tournament, a six-game winning streak and a wave of momentum. The women defeated Middlebury in four sets (25-15, 25-16, 22-25, 25-17) in the quarterfinals, dispatched their top-seeded Tufts hosts in a thrilling five set (25-22, 26-28, 25-20, 20-25, 15-13) match on Saturday and took home the title by overcoming Amherst in the finals in four sets (25-18, 20-25, 25-12, 25-21).

For the third consecutive year, the NESCAC title and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament came down to a showdown between the Ephs and the Jeffs. Amherst held a higher seed and had already defeated the women twice this season. The Ephs, however, focused on the moment at hand, and proved themselves the better team.

The first set seesawed early before the Ephs closed it out in convincing fashion with a nine-point run. The Ephs struggled and eventually dropped the second set, but came out firing on all cylinders in the third set, amassing a sizeable lead and ultimately winning by a huge margin of 13 points. The women were poised to take home the championship in the fourth set, and, for the second day in a row, Kate Anderson ’11 closed out the match with a huge kill.

At the net, NESCAC Player of the Week Whitney Hitchcock ’10 tied a conference record with an incredible 15 blocks, while Anderson made 17 kills and seven blocks and Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11 added another 17 kills and two service aces. Emily Avis ’11 coordinated the highly effective offense with an impressive 47 assists. The team saved its best blocking and consistency for the biggest match of the year when it truly counted.
The semifinal match against the top-seeded Jumbos proved to be the biggest test of the tournament and one of the toughest matches of the entire season. The Jumbos entered the match undefeated in NESCAC play, while the Ephs came in riding on a seven-game winning streak.

The Ephs took the first set and were a point from taking the second at 24-19 before a Tufts rally evened up the score and eventually took the match. The teams then traded come-from-behind wins in the third and fourth sets, bringing the bid for the finals down to the fifth and final set.

At one point, the women had accrued a six-point lead, but Tufts responded and squared the match. Anderson eventually blasted home the winning kill at 15-13 to send the Ephs into the championship match.
Every player on the team played a large role in this win. The true key, ultimately, was the team’s defensive consistency, led by co-captain Chelsea Kubal ’10 (20 digs), co-captain Riki McDermott ’09 (14 digs) and Melissa Pun ’10 (19 digs).

The weekend began on Friday against the skilled, fifth-seeded Panthers. The Ephs did not trail at all in either of the first two sets and took them by comfortable margins. The women kept it close through most of the third set before falling at the very end. Nonetheless, Williams quickly regained its composure and refocused to take down the final set.

Ballon-Landa spearheaded the offensive effort with 20 kills. Setter Avis continued her incredible play in the NESCAC championship from last year with 53 assists and three service aces. Kubal provided 19 digs in this match to lead the defensive front.

“I’m so proud of team this weekend. It was a total team effort both on defense and on offense,” Head Coach Fran Vandermeer said. “Blocking was such a huge part of our game and the key to our defensive success this weekend. The girls have worked so hard all year and it all came together in the last three games.”

Riding high on a nine-game winning streak built on defensive consistency and offensive aggression, volleyball will charge into the NCAA tournament on Thursday back at Tufts. The team looks to show the nation its true potential in a first round match up against Keene State.