Volleyball Starts Quest for Second NESCAC Title in Three Years

Volleyball Starts Quest for Second NESCAC Title in Three Years

Looking for its second NESCAC Tournament title in the last three years, the fourth-seeded Middlebury volleyball team begins its quest when it squares off with fifth-seeded Bowdoin on Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. hosted by Tufts. The two teams played on October 10 inside Pepin Gymnasium, as Middlebury hung on for a five-set victory (22-25, 25-14, 26-24, 15-25, 15-13). Semifinal matches will be played on Saturday, November 8 followed by the championship match on Sunday, November 9.

Tufts closed out the final weekend of the regular season with a pair of road victories to post a 9-1 conference record and earn the top seed in the NESCAC Volleyball Championship for the first time since 2009. The Jumbos also earned the right to host all rounds of the tournament at Cousens and Chase Gymnasiums.

Tufts (19-7, 9-1 NESCAC) got out to a slow start in September with a 7-6 record. Since that time, the Jumbos have posted a 12-1 mark, including eight straight league wins to finish atop the NESCAC standings. Tufts' success is due in large part to the top blocking defense in the conference, which is averaging 2.30 blocks per set. Senior middle hitter Isabel Kuhel (Brisbane, Calif.) provides an intimidating presence at the net, as she leads the league with 1.34 blocks per set while hitting a conference-best .343. Senior outside hitter Hayley Hopper (Carlsbad, Calif.) also provides some offensive firepower, averaging 3.58 kills per set. The Jumbos are in search of their first conference crown despite making final appearances in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Tufts begins pursuit of the title against Trinity (13-10, 4-6 NESCAC) Friday night. The Bantams have struggled in recent weeks, but head into the championship having won back-to-back matches. Trinity is paced by all-around player Kate Giddens (Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif.). The junior middle hitter ranks second in the conference in service aces per set (0.68), fourth in kills per set (3.52) and sixth in hitting percentage (.293). Trinity is looking for its elusive first NESCAC title, as it makes its 13th NESCAC Championship appearance. Tufts owns a 2-0 league post-season record against the Bantams, but the teams have not squared off since the 2007 quarterfinals when the Jumbos prevailed 3-0. In this season's meeting, Tufts handed Trinity a straight-set loss on October 11.

Second-seeded Williams (22-4, 8-2 NESCAC) enters the championship as the defending champion and owner of a league-best ten NESCAC titles. The Ephs feature the top offense in the conference that averages 12.80 kills per set and hits .241 as a team. Sophomore Tori Jasuta (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) paces the attack, averaging a league-high 3.79 kills per set, while junior setter Ryan Farley (La Jolla, Calif.) leads the conference with 9.80 assists per set. Williams, which opened the year with a 16-1 record, was riding a five-match winning streak until losing to Bowdoin in the regular season finale, 3-2. Williams' quarterfinal opponent is Hamilton (15-11, 4-6 NESCAC). The Continentals opened the season with a 10-4 start, but have lost three straight matches heading into post-season play. Sophomore Jessica Weston (Spring Valley, Ohio) has compiled a team-best 236 kills and .296 hitting percentage to lead the Continentals. Hamilton is making its first post-season appearance since the new championship format began in 2001. Earlier this season, Williams knocked off Hamilton in four sets on October 3.

Amherst (20-6, 8-2 NESCAC) locked up the third seed by finishing the second half of the season with a 12-2 record. The Jeffs jump-start their offense, which averages 11.75 kills per set, with the best back row defense in the conference anchored by junior Katie Warshaw (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), who averages 5.48 digs per set to lead all NESCAC players. Amherst hopes to add a fourth NESCAC title to its trophy case to go along with championships won in 1999, 2000 and 2006. The Jeffs will face sixth-seeded Connecticut College (14-10, 5-5 NESCAC) in the quarterfinal round. The Camels have bounced back from losing their first five matches of the season to reach their ninth straight and 11th overall championship appearance. Connecticut College fields one of the most balanced offenses in the championship, as five players have amassed more than 130 kills this season. Leading the way is first-year right side Sam Hunter (Palos Verdes, Calif.), who has 202 kills. Amherst owns a 2-0 record against the Camels in the NESCAC Championship with the most recent result being a 3-2 win in the 2008 quarterfinal. The Jeffs erased a two-set deficit to pull out a 3-2 come-from-behind win at Connecticut College in this season's head-to-head match-up.

The final quarterfinal pits a pair of teams with matching 6-4 league records against each other in Middlebury (12-11, 6-4 NESCAC) and Bowdoin (20-7, 6-4 NESCAC). The Panthers started the season slow, going 2-5 in the first two weeks, but punched their ticket to the championship by winning eight of their last 12 matches. Senior Olivia Kolodka (Verona, N.J.) paces the offense with 219 kills, while senior libero Lizzy Reed (Cazenovia, N.Y.) has compiled a team-best 367 digs. Middlebury looks to regain the championship form that allowed them to hoist the conference trophy in 2010 and 2012.

The Polar Bears stormed out of the gates with an eight-match win streak before suffering their first loss. Bowdoin has one of the top offenses in the league, averaging 11.62 kills per set while hitting at a .222 clip. The Polar Bears also have one of the top six-rotation players in the conference in junior Christy Jewett (Sunnyvale, Calif.), who has notched 367 kills and 277 digs to go along with 56 service aces. Prior to winning its lone NESCAC title in 2011, Bowdoin had never advanced past the quarterfinal round. Since then, the Polar Bears have appeared in three consecutive semifinals, including last year's final versus Williams. Both teams have split results in conference championship play with the most recent result going in favor of Middlebury, as the Panthers edged Bowdoin in the 2012 semifinal, 3-2.

All matches will be webcasted by the Northeast Sports Network (NSN) at nsnsports.net/NESCAC. Results for the NESCAC Volleyball Championship will be available at the completion of each day on the NESCAC website.

2014 NESCAC VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP - HOSTED BY TUFTS
Quarterfinal Games - Friday, November 7
#8 Trinity at #1 Tufts - 5:00 p.m.
#7 Hamilton vs. #2 Williams - 5:00 p.m.
#6 Connecticut College vs. #3 Amherst - 8:00 p.m.
#5 Bowdoin vs. #4 Middlebury - 8:00 p.m. 

Semifinals - Saturday, November 8
Winner of 1/8 vs. Winner of 4/5 - 1:00 p.m.
Winner of 2/7 vs. Winner of 3/6 - 3:30 p.m.

NESCAC Championship - Sunday, November 9
Championship – 12:00 p.m.

--Courtesy NESCAC--