The Middlebury volleyball team split a pair of matches on Saturday during the final day of the New England Challenge hosted by Williams. In the day's first contest, the Panthers (16-6) edged Springfield in four sets (20-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-21) and were bested in the afternoon by 15th-ranked MIT in four sets (25-15, 25-19, 15-25, 25-18). The Panthers conclude their NESCAC regular-season schedule next weekend when play at Hamilton on Friday at 8:00 p.m., followed by a 2:00 p.m. Saturday match against Williams.
For her efforts, Isabel Sessions was named to the all-tournament team with 34 kills and a .245 hitting percentage over the three matches.
In the first set against Springfield (14-10), the Pride jumped out to a 7-1 advantage, but Middlebury battled back to tie it at 8-8 on a kill from Sessions. Springfield scored the next seven points for a 15-8 lead on a kill by Bridget Walsh. The Panthers chipped away at the deficit, cutting it to three on a kill by Chellsa Ferdinand, but the Pride scored the final two points for the 25-20 victory.
The second set saw Middlebury battle back from deficits of 6-1 and 8-4 to take a 17-16 lead on a kill from Sarah Staver. After trading small leads with the set tied at 25-25, a kill from Sessions and a Pride attack error gave the Panthers the set and tied the match at a set apiece.
In a back-and-forth third set that was knotted at 16-16, the Panthers rattled off a 5-1 run, including a pair of kills from Sessions, for a 21-17 advantage. Middlebury wasn't challenged for the rest of the set, taking a 2-1 lead on a Springfield ball-handling error.
The fourth set saw the Panthers race out to an 8-4 lead on a kill from Sessions, but Springfield fought back to within one (12-11) on a kill by Kayley Cimino. Middlebury tallied five of the ensuing seven points, including a pair of kills from Becca Raffel and cruised to the set and the match.
Sessions paced the Panthers with 14 kills, while Raffel added 12 along with a career-high 21 digs. Ferdinand dished out 38 assists for the Panthers. Emily Kolodka dug up 18 balls and Gigi Alper tacked on 14, while Shea Golden had 11.
In the second match with MIT (24-2) clinging to a 9-8 lead, the Engineers put together a 5-1 run for a 14-9 advantage. Middlebury cut the deficit to four (18-14) on a service ace by Golden, but MIT slowly pulled away for the first set (25-15).
With the second set knotted at 8-8, the Engineers manufactured a 7-2 spurt for a 15-10 edge. The Panthers pulled to within two on an MIT ball-handling error (15-13), but the Engineers scored four of the next five points and cruised to a two-set lead.
Trailing 7-4 in the third set, Middlebury reeled off an 8-2 run for a 15-9 lead. MIT pulled to within four (19-15) on a kill by Abby Bertics, but the Panthers scored the last six points of the set for a 25-15 victory.
In set number four, Middlebury moved out to a 7-4 edge but three-consecutive service aces from Golden. The Engineers clawed their way back into the set, taking a 14-13 lead on a service ace by Alli Davanzo. Holding on to a 17-16 lead, MIT scored five-straight points, taking the set and the match.
Sessions led the Panthers with 13 kills, while Raffel added eight with 10 digs. Alice Roberts had seven kills for Middlebury. Ferdinand handed out 34 assists, while Alper tied for match-high honors with 16 digs. Golden finished with a career-high six service aces, while three Panthers had four block assists at the net.