Middlebury won its third NESCAC Championship and first since '98 with a 3-1 (25-22, 21-25, 25-21, 26-24) victory over Tufts at Amherst. The Panthers earn an automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament, improving to 24-5 on the season. The Jumbos fall to 22-10 on the year.
Tufts advanced to the conference championship for the second straight season with wins over Connecticut College and the hosts from Amherst, while Middlebury earned a spot in the final for the first time since 1998 with wins over Trinity and Williams.
The Jumbos jumped out to an early lead, taking a 5-0 advantage to start the first set. After a timeout from Middlebury, the Panthers rallied to tie the score at 12-12. With the momentum in Middlebury's favor, Jane Handel put away a kill to open up a 15-12 lead for the Panthers. Middlebury never trailed again in the first set, winning 25-22 on another Handel kill.
The second set started with the two sides splitting the first ten points. Tufts mounted a four point scoring run capped by a block of Middlebury's Elissa Goeke by Lexi Nicholas and Nancy Shrodes. The Jumbos held off a comeback effort in the second from Middlebury, winning 25-21 to tie the set score at 1-1.
In the third frame, Tufts held a lead as late as 14-12, but the Panthers turned the tables for an 18-16 lead. Middlebury held its advantage at 23-20, before closing out the frame 25-22 to move within a set of the championship.
Tufts was the first to 10 points in the fourth and final frame, but a Julia Gibbs kill tied the score 10-10. Tufts pulled away for a 21-17 lead, and looked as though it would tie the match back up. Middlebury was resilient though, taking a 24-23 lead after a handful of long rallies late. Tufts responded with a kill from Caitlin Updike to tie the score 24-24. After a Handel kill set up match point for Middlebury, a Tufts player was called for touching the net on a hitting attempt, giving the Panthers the title.
Updike led all players with 25 kills in the match for Tufts. Shrodes and Cara Spieler combined for 20 kills for the Jumbos as well. Kendall Lord had 55 assists for Tufts, while Spieler led five Jumbos in double-digits in digs with 29.
Middlebury was led by 17 kills from Megan Jarchow and 13 kills from Handel. Caitlin Barrett had 47 digs for the Panthers, while Lauren Barrett had 44 assists. Jarchow had 28 digs in the win, while Gibbs had 21 digs and 11 kills on the day.