Hosting its lone tri-match of the season, the Middlebury volleyball team swept both ends on Saturday inside Pepin Gymnasium. The Panthers (5-2) earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory (25-18, 25-16, 22-25, 22-25, 15-13) in the first match over Cortland State, and followed that with a three-set victory over Colby-Sawyer (25-10, 25-17, 25-14). Middlebury returns to the court Wednesday when it travels north to take on St. Michael's at 7:00 p.m.
In the opening set against Cortland State, Middlebury jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead highlighted by three service aces by Hannah Blackburn. The Red Dragons slowly cut the deficit to four at 9-5 on a kill by Courtney Silberer, but the hosts held off any Cortland State rallies and took the first set.
The second set played out much like the first with the Panthers grabbing the early 7-3 advantage. That lead grew to as many as 10 at 15-5 as the Red Dragons never threatened and Middlebury grabbed a two-set advantage.
In the third, the two teams exchanged points and the score was tied at 9-9. Cortland State rattled off a quick 4-0 spurt, capped off by a kill by Vanessa Carmesin and held the lead, 13-9. Once again, the two sides traded points as the Panthers pulled to within one (23-22) on a kill from Isabel Sessions, but the Red Dragons scored the final two points of the set.
The fourth set was back and forth with neither side possessing greater than a three-point edge. With Middlebury clinging to a 19-17 edge, a kill from Cortland State's Lindsay Kirk along with a pair of service aces by Samantha Czeczotka and a setting error by the Panthers gave the Red Dragons a 21-19 lead. Becca Raffel pulled the hosts to within one at 21-20 on a kill, but that's as close as Middlebury would get as Cortland State tallied four of the final six points of the set and tied the match at two sets apiece.
In the decisive set, the teams saw the momentum swing back and forth with neither side able to pull away. With the set tied at 13-13, a Cortland State service error followed by a block assist from Middlebury's Eliana Schaefer and Gabi Rosenfeld clinched the set and the match.
Raffel paced the Middlebury offense with a career-high 20 kills, while Sessions ended with 16. Blackburn handed out a career-best 53 assists to go along with a 15 digs and a team-high four service aces. Charlotte Devine led the Panthers with 16 digs, while Rosenfeld (1 BS, 5 BA), Schaefer (5 BA) and English (1 BS, 3 BA) led the Middlebury defense at the net.
For the Red Dragons, Kirk led a pair in double figures with 12 kills, while Czeczotka added 11. Carmesin handed out 25 assists and Liz Roberts had 14, while Melanie McGuirk and Janine Patora had 16 and 15 digs, respectively.
In the nightcap against Colby-Sawyer, the Panthers jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead in the opening set. The Chargers cut that deficit to four (9-5) on a kill by Kelsey McCulley, but Middlebury rattled off a 4-0 spurt and never looked back in the set victory.
During the second session, the hosts raced out to a 5-0 advantage. The Chargers gradually chipped at the Panther advantage and tied the set at 11-11 via a kill by Gabrielle Ratte. Middlebury secured the ensuing four points as Colby-Sawyer couldn't draw closer as the Panthers led 2-0.
In the third, the Chargers scored the first point via a kill by Alli Lahiff, but Middlebury reeled off seven-straight points and were never threatened for the remainder of the set for the victory.
Sessions and Raffel led a balanced attack with nine kills apiece, while English chipped in with eight for Middlebury. Blackburn dished out 28 assists and collected eight digs, while English added two more block solos to go along with a block assist. Schaefer and Rosenfeld each tallied three block assists in the victory. As a team, the Panthers hit .284 (39-12-95) for the match, including a .476 clip (12-2-21) in the opening set.
Kelsey Sullivan finished with seven kills and McCulley added six for Colby-Sawyer. Ratte had 13 assists and five digs, while McCulley had a team-best nine digs.