The Middlebury College women's volleyball team will make its fifth overall NCAA Tournament appearance, when the Panthers travel to Brockport, New York for an NCAA Regional. The matches will take place Friday-Sunday, November 11-13, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Quarterfinals. SUNY Brockport will serve as the host school for the event.
Middlebury earned its way into the tournament this year with an automatic bid after capturing its fifth NESCAC Championship. The Panthers won the title with a 3-2 road victory at Tufts last Sunday.
Middlebury enters the weekend with a 4-4 record in four NCAA Tournament appearances. The Panthers first trip came in 1998, before making three-straight trips from 2010-12. Middlebury's best NCAA performance came in 2011, when it advanced to the regional finals.
Middlebury has captured five NESCAC Championships (1997, 1998, 2010, 2012, 2016), while advancing to the ECAC semifinals in 1997, 1999 and 2000.
Head coach Sarah Raunecker is now in her 22nd season at the helm, owning a career record of 401-217 (.649). Raunecker earned her 400th career win in the conference semifinals, sweeping Amherst in three sets.
The Panthers won eight-straight matches earlier this season, before finishing the year with three-consecutive NESCAC Tournament victories. Middlebury leads the NESCAC in blocks/set (2.32), ranks second in hitting percentage (.202) and fourth in kills/set (11.7).
Junior Becca Raffel leads the team's offensive attack with 3.06 kills/set, placing her fifth in the NESCAC. A three-time All-Conference selection and 2014 NESCAC Co-Rookie of the Year, Raffel is also a top defender with the Panthers, earning 2.89 digs/set. Earlier this year, she pounded out 22 kills in a 3-1 victory over Bates, hitting .339 in the match. She has been in double figures in digs 15 times this year with six double-doubles, including a career-best 26 digs in the NESCAC Championship win over Tufts. Raffel ranks first all-time as a Panther with 3.26 kills/set.
Joining her up front is sophomore Isabel Sessions, who is second on the team and sixth in the league with 2.86 kills/set. A Second-Team All-NESCAC selection this year and a member of the NEWVA All-Rookie team in 2015, Sessions has picked up 10 or more kills in 14 matches this season. She accomplished the feat in nine-straight matches midway through the year.
Sophomore Sarah Staver has also provided an impact up front for the Panthers, owning 1.60 kills/set, while earning Second-Team All-NESCAC honors. Her .301 hitting percentage leads the team and places her fourth among her NESCAC peers. She earned a career-high 12 kills in a win at Colby, hitting an astonishing .800 in the match. Staver is also solid defensively, tying for the NESCAC and team lead with 1.08 blocks/set. Junior Alice Roberts averages 1.76 kills/set to aid the Panther attack.
Senior Hannah Blackburn is a three-time All-NESCAC selection as the team's setter. She paces the team and ranks eighth in the league with 4.66 assists/set, despite missing eight matches with an injury earlier this year. Blackburn is second on the team with 3.35 digs/set, including a career-best 29 in the NESCAC Championship win over Tufts. She is currently third all-time at Middlebury with 2,538 assists in 92 matches. Rookie Chellsa Ferdinand has set in 19 matches, averaging 4.66 assists/set.
Defensively, first-year player Gigi Alper has served as the team's libero, pacing the team and ranking ninth in the NESCAC with 3.99 digs/set. Junior Emily Kolodka averages 3.0 digs/set to go along with 28 service aces, while senior Melanie English is tied with Staver with the most blocks/set in the NESCAC this season (1.08).
2016 NCAA Women's Volleyball Regional – SUNY Brockport
Friday, November 11
Susquehanna vs. Clarkson – 12:30 p.m.
Emory vs. New Rochelle – 3:00 p.m.
Ithaca vs. Middlebury 5:30 p.m.
SUNY Brockport vs. Gallaudet – 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 12 - SUNY Brockport
Susquehanna/Clarkson winner vs. Emory/New Rochelle winner – 2:30 p.m.
Ithaca/Middlebury winner vs. SUNY Brockport/Gallaudet winner– 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 13 - SUNY Brockport
Regional Final – 2:30 p.m.