Panthers Advance to NESCAC Championship, Raunecker Wins 400th

Head coach Sarah Raunecker picked up her 400th career victory in the NESCAC Semifinal victory.
Head coach Sarah Raunecker picked up her 400th career victory in the NESCAC Semifinal victory.

Second-seeded Middlebury advanced to the NESCAC Championship for the first time since 2012 with a straight-set victory (25-22, 25-16, 25-23) in the NESCAC Semifinals over third-seeded Amherst on Saturday at Tufts. With the victory, Panther head coach Sarah Raunecker earned her 400th career win. Raunecker, who is in her 22nd season, improved her career mark to 400-217. The Panthers (17-8) play the top-seeded Jumbos on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. with the winner earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Tufts earned a spot in the final with a four-set triumph over Bowdoin in the other semifinal.

Trailing 19-17 the opening set, Middlebury put together a quick 5-0 run, highlighted by three kills from Becca Raffel, for a 22-19 advantage. The Purple & White cut the deficit to one (22-21) on a kill by Maggie Danner. The Panthers responded and tallied three of the final four points in the set, capped off on a kill by Isabel Sessions for the set victory.

In the second set, the Panthers turned a 3-3 tie into a 12-5 lead with a 9-2 run. The Purple & White were never able to get any closer than seven over the remainder of the set, as Middlebury grabbed a two-set advantage, 25-16.

The third set saw Amherst secure a six-point lead at 14-8 on a kill by Nicole Gould. The Panthers slowly chipped away at the deficit, drawing level at 20-20 on an Amherst attack error. Trading the next two points, a kill from Raffel and an Amherst attack miscue gave the Panthers a 23-21 advantage. The Panthers moved into the championship match on a kill from Melanie English for the deciding point.

Raffel led the Panther attack with 16 kills to go along with eight digs, while Sarah Staver and Sessions each chipped in with nine kills. Hannah Blackburn handed out 34 assists and produced 10 digs, while Gigi Alper, Claire White-Dzuro and Emily Kolodka had 17, 15 and 10 digs, respectively.

Amherst was led by Danner with 13 kills, while Marialexa Natsis had nine and Gould tacked on eight. Kate Bres dished out 22 assists for the Purple & White, while Charlotte Duran had 13. Hayes Honea had 19 digs for Amherst, while Asha Walker added 13. Danner concluded the match with a block solo and two block assists.

During the regular-season matchup between the teams, the Jumbos posted a five-set victory (25-17, 14-25, 25-22, 17-25, 15-11) on October 8 in Pepin Gymnasium.