Volleyball snags 2nd at Brandeis Invite

Volleyball opened its season last weekend at the Brandeis Invitational, where it finished second out of nine teams. Returning 10 of 11 players, including five starters, from last year’s NCAA fifth place team, volleyball is poised to have another benchmark autumn. After the late season heroics of last year’s squad, which won NESCAC and New England titles as underdogs, Williams begins the 2009 season as one of the strongest teams in the region.

Williams made quick work of Rhode Island College on Friday in its season opener, winning 3-0. Later in the day, the women took on host Brandeis and again emerged victorious, this time 3-1, to close out the first day of the tournament. Williams came out firing again on Saturday, taking the first set from eventual champions UMass Boston before falling 3-1. Williams would rebound to beat conference rival Trinity 3-1 in the final match to lock up second place in the tournament. “[The tournament was] a really solid start,” Head Coach Christi Kelsey said. “I thought it was a great team effort to open the season, and I’m excited about the possibilities ahead.” Middle blocker Whitney Hitchcock ’10 was named to the All-Tournament team, and Kate Anderson ’11 was named NESCAC player of the week.

While Riki McDermott ’09 is the lone Eph lost to graduation, the squad will also be without Fran Vandermeer, the former head coach and Williams’ all-time win leader who retired at the end of last season. Kelsey, who comes to Williams after three years as an assistant coach at Harvard University, will take Vandermeer’s place, and Joel Williams returns as an assistant coach. Together, they will look to the team’s four seniors – Melissa Pun ’10, Andrea Scioscia ’10, Hitchcock and captain Chelsea Kubal ’10 – for on-court leadership and a high level of performance throughout the season.

Kubal, entering her second year as captain, set high standards for herself last season, when she led the team in digs and digs per set with 499 and 3.35 respectively. Hitchcock was similarly successful last year, dominating at the net in racking up a team-leading 121 blocks, while Scioscia was a defensive stalwart and also the team leader in service aces with 47. Although an injury has persisted in Pun’s career, she hopes to continue the success of her sophomore season, when she was named All-NESCAC and Honorable Mention All-American.

Following the lead of Kubal and the other seniors, the team’s four juniors – Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11, Eleanor Levine ’11, Emily Avis ’11 and Anderson – will need to shoulder a great deal of the workload if the Ephs are to improve on last year’s fifth place finish at NCAAs. Together, the four had a standout 2008 season in which they all played key roles on the team, a fact which bodes well for a successful 2009 season. Avis, in her role as setter, led the team in both assists and assists per set with 957 and 8.86 respectively. Not to be outdone, the duo of Ballon-Landa and Anderson led last year’s team in kills, kills per set and overall hitting percentage en route to both being awarded First Team All-NESCAC, All-New England and Honorable Mention All-American honors. Meanwhile, Levine finished the 2008 season ranked second on the team in service aces, third on the team in both kills and hitting percentage and fourth on the team in blocks.

Jessica Torres ’12 and Aly McKinnon ’12 hope to build on their successes from last season and amp up their contributions as second-year students. Joining the sophomores are first years Mika Nakashige ’13, Lauren Agoubi ’13, Haley Eagon ’13 and Brooke Johnson ’13, who will look to be an asset to the heavy-hitting Ephs from the get-go.

“I am really excited about the team this season,” Kelsey said. “We have a great mix of experienced returners and first year players. Everyone on the team has come in to start our season with great energy, dedication and commitment to the work ahead of us. I believe we have a lot of the right tools that can help us be competitive in our region and in the NESCAC this year, but each night is going to be a battle as every team in our conference and region only continue to get stronger each season.”

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