Middlebury and Amherst split the first two sets, but the hosts utilized runs midway through the third and fourth sets for a 3-1 victory (25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 25-16) on Friday evening in Pepin Gymnasium. The Panthers (13-4, 5-2) return to the court Saturday when they entertain Williams in the home regular-season finale at 2:00 p.m., while Amherst (10-6, 4-3) travels to Hamilton on Saturday for a 2:00 p.m. match.
With the score tied at 2-2 in the opening set of Friday's contest, the hosts tallied eight of the next 11 points for a 10-5 advantage on a Purple & White attack error. The visitors chipped away at the deficit, cutting it to four (13-9) on a Middlebury attack error. The Panthers tallied the next four points, including a pair of kills from Becca Raffel, and were never challenged for the remainder of the set. The hosts closed out the set on a block assist from Eliana Schaefer and Melanie English.
In the second set, Middlebury secured a 6-4 advantage on a kill from Raffel. Amherst responded with a 6-1 spurt with four different players recording a kill in the run. After a Panther timeout, the hosts put together a 5-2 run and tied the set at 12-12, capped off on a kill from Isabel Sessions. Trailing by one minutes later (17-16), Amherst rattled off five of the next six points for a 21-18 edge on a Middlebury attack error. The Panthers sliced the deficit to a pair on three occasions, but kills from Annika Reczek and Maggie Danner gave Amherst the set, 25-21.
The third set saw Amherst fight back from a pair of early two-point deficits, cutting the Middlebury lead to 6-5 via a kill from Nicole Gould. The Panthers reeled off a 5-1 spurt, capped off on a service ace from Hannah Blackburn, for an 11-6 lead. Gould tallied a kill on the ensuing play for Amherst, but the Panthers put together another 5-1 run as Amherst got no closer than four over the rest of the set for a 2-1 Middlebury advantage.
The visitors pulled out to a three-point advantage in the final set at 5-2 on a kill from Danner. The Panthers came roaring back with nine of the next 13 points and grabbed a two-point edge (11-9), forcing a Purple & White timeout. After the break, Amherst's Marialexa Natsis pulled the visitors to within a point, but the hosts slowly pulled away and scored the clinching point on a kill from Raffel.
Raffel paced the balanced Middlebury offense, finishing with a career-high 21 kills to go along with 12 digs for a double-double. Sessions tacked on 10 kills, while Blackburn had a double-double of 29 assists and 14 digs along with her three service aces. Emily Kolodka tied her career high with a match-best 25 digs, Sarah Staver had two block solos and four block assists, while English tacked on five block assists. Chellsa Ferdinand also had a nice all-around match of 16 assists, eight digs and three service aces for Middlebury.
Amherst was led by Danner's 13 kills, while Gould also finished in double figures with 11. Hayes Honea led the Purple & White with 18 digs, while Kate Bres tallied 20 assists. Claire Dennis ended the match with three block assists for Amherst.