Volleyball Starts Quest for Second NESCAC Title in Four Years

Volleyball Starts Quest for Second NESCAC Title in Four Years

Looking for its second NESCAC Volleyball Tournament title in four years, fourth-seeded Middlebury begins its quest when it squares off with fifth-seeded Tufts on Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. in a quarterfinal match. The two teams played last Saturday inside Pepin Gymnasium, as the Panthers hung on for a four-set victory (22-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-19). Semifinal matches will be played on Saturday, November 7 followed by the championship match on Sunday, November 8 hosted by Bowdoin.

Bowdoin closed out the final weekend of the regular season with a pair of road wins over Colby and Bates to post a 9-1 conference record and earn the top seed in the NESCAC Volleyball Championship for the first time since 2011. The Polar Bears also earned the right to host all rounds of the tournament at Morrell and Sargent Gymnasiums. Quarterfinal round action is slated to get underway on Friday, November 6 at 5 p.m. Semifinal matches will be played on Saturday, November 7 followed by the championship game on Sunday, November 8.

Bowdoin (20-4, 9-1 NESCAC) got out to a slow start, posting a 2-3 record in early September. However, since then, the Polar Bears have posted a 17-1 mark, including an eight-match winning streak to close out the regular season. Bowdoin boasts one of the best all-around teams in the conference, averaging 12.39 kills and 17.59 digs per set. Senior Christy Jewett (Sunnyvale, Calif.) is one of the top six-rotation players in the league, ranking second in kills per set at 3.95, while hitting .267 and contributing 3.10 digs per set. Junior libero Katie Doherty (Menlo Park, Calif.) helps the back row defensive effort, as she leads the conference with 5.54 digs per set. The Polar Bears are in search of their second NESCAC title after winning their lone crown in 2011.

Bowdoin starts its chase for the trophy against eighth-seeded Bates (10-14, 3-7 NESCAC), which is making its second postseason appearance since 2005 and eighth appearance overall. The Bobcats have won three of their last four matches, with the loss coming against the Polar Bears on the last day of the regular season by the score of 3-1. Bates is paced by junior outside hitter Chandler McGrath (Seal Beach, Calif.), who is fifth in the league with 3.26 kills per set. Senior Laryssa Schepel (Flemington, N.J.) ignites the Bobcat defense, averaging 4.34 digs per set, which is good for fifth among conference players. Friday's quarterfinal meeting will be the first postseason match between both programs.

Second-seeded Williams (16-9, 8-2 NESCAC) heads to Maine as the two-time defending conference champion. The Ephs, who have captured a league-high 11 NESCAC titles, snapped a four-match losing streak by defeating Wesleyan and Trinity to end the regular season. Setter Ryan Farley (La Jolla, Calif.) directs one of the top offenses in the league as the senior dishes out a conference-best 10.05 assists per set, while the Ephs average 12.64 kills per set as a squad. Junior Tori Jasuta (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and first-year Ally Ostrow (Menlo Park, Calif.) contribute more than 2.10 kills and 3.60 digs per set each for a balanced Williams squad. The Ephs' quarterfinal opponent is seventh-seeded Colby (14-11, 4-6 NESCAC). The Mules had won six straight matches to post the most wins since 2005 before losing to Bowdoin on Friday. Colby is making its first postseason appearance since 2012, and just its third appearance in nine years. Senior middle blocker Kim Donaldson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) provides an intimidating presence at the net, as she leads the team with 240 kills, a .271 hitting percentage and 92 total blocks. Senior Natalie Roy (Los Altos, Calif.) leads the squad with 335 digs. In their only postseason meeting, Colby defeated the Ephs in straight sets in the 2005 semifinals before the Mules went on to win their lone NESCAC title. Earlier this season, Williams swept Colby on October 3.

Amherst (21-3, 8-2 NESCAC) put together three separate winning streaks that consisted of five victories or more during the season to clinch the No. 3 seed. The Jeffs feature one of the most balanced and efficient offensive attacks, as four players average more than two kills per set. Junior Maggie Danner (Newport Beach, Calif.) leads the way with 2.91 kills per set to go along with a .271 hitting percentage, while sophomore Marialexa Natsis (Los Angeles, Calif.) hits at a conference-best .345 clip. Senior libero Katie Warshaw (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) plays a key role in Amherst's transition game, averaging 5.25 digs per set, which ranks second in the NESCAC. For the second consecutive season, the Jeffs will face sixth-seeded Connecticut College (17-6, 6-4 NESCAC). The surging Camels are one of the hottest teams leading into the weekend, having won 11 of their last 12 matches. Sophomore setter Katia Elisman (Lake Forest, Ill.), who ranks second in the league at 9.96 assists per set, has done a good job of distributing the ball evenly to her hitters, as the top five hitters on the team are only separated by 40 kills. Sophomore Sam Hunter (Palos Verdes, Calif.) leads the charge with 188 kills, while hitting .266. Amherst has won all three postseason meetings versus Connecticut College, including last year's 3-1 decision in the quarterfinal round. The Jeffs swept the Camels during the regular season on September 18.

The last quarterfinal features a pair of teams with identical 7-3 league records against each other in Middlebury (17-6, 7-3 NESCAC) and Tufts (17-7, 7-3 NESCAC). The Panthers, who won 12 of 13 matches midway through the season, look to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2012 in an effort to win their third overall NESCAC Championship. Middlebury possesses two of the top hitters in the conference. Sophomore outside hitter Becca Raffel (Palo Alto, Calif.) is third in the league averaging 3.84 kills per set, while first-year Isabel Sessions (Chicago, Ill.) ranks sixth at 2.92 kills per set. Junior Melanie English (Montgomery Village, Md.) has been a force at the net, leading the league with 1.08 blocks per set while ranking third in hitting percentage at .310. The Jumbos went on a similar tear at the end of September through October, logging a 12-1 mark at one point. Senior outside hitter Maddie Kuppe (Palo Alto, Calif.) is among the league's top all-around players, posting 294 kills, 244 digs and 42 service aces. Junior middle hitter Elizabeth Ahrens (Richmond, Va.) jumpstarts the defensive effort at the net, having recorded 83 total blocks so far this season. Tufts hopes to grab its first NESCAC title after recording five runner-up finishes, including last year's 3-2 loss to Williams in the title tilt. Middlebury, which won the regular season finale last Saturday in four sets, won the two prior postseason contests versus the Jumbos with the most recent meeting coming in the 2011 semifinals.

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

Hosted by Bowdoin College
Quarterfinals - Friday, November 6
#8 Bates at #1 Bowdoin – 5:00 p.m.
#7 Colby vs. #2 Williams – 5:00 p.m.
#6 Connecticut College vs. #3 Amherst – 8:00 p.m.
#5 Tufts vs. #4 Middlebury – 8:00 p.m.

Semifinals - Saturday, November 7
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.

Championship - Sunday, November 8
Championship  - 12:00 p.m.

-- Courtesy of the NESCAC --