Middlebury fought all the way back from a two-set deficit, but Ithaca edged the Panthers in five sets (27-25, 26-24, 21-25, 18-25, 16-14) on Friday evening during an NCAA Regional hosted by SUNY Brockport in the Jim and John Vlogianitis Gymnasium. The Bombers (27-5), who received votes in the latest AVCA national poll, advance to the regional semifinals where they play the winner of a match between Gallaudet and the host Golden Eagles. The Panthers conclude their season with an 18-9 record.
During Friday's opening set, Middlebury jumped out to leads of 7-2 and 13-5, the latter capped off on a solo block by Hannah Blackburn. Following a timeout, Ithaca rattled off a 7-1 run and cut the Panther lead to just two at 14-12, finishing the run on a kill by Joelle Goldstein. The Panthers scored the ensuing four points for a six-point advantage (18-12), but the Bombers responded with an 8-2 spurt, tying the set at 20-20 on a kill from Taylor McCarthy. With the set knotted at 25-25, a kill Goldstein and a Panther attack error gave the Bombers the set victory, 27-25.
The second set had the Bombers possessing a five-point edge at 16-11 via a kill by Hailey Adler. The Panthers tied the set on a 5-0 run that included kills by Melanie English and Isabel Sessions. Ithaca slowly pulled out to a three-point advantage (21-18), capped on a kill by McCarthy, but kills by Middlebury's Sessions and Sarah Staver, along with a Bomber attack error tied the score at 21-21. The teams traded the next few points and with the score deadlocked at 24-24, a kill by Goldstein and a Panther attack error put the Bombers ahead by two sets.
In the third set, each team put together runs before Middlebury maintained a narrow 13-12 lead. The Panthers rattled off the ensuing seven points, including a pair of blocks from Alice Roberts and English for a 20-12 lead. The Bombers gradually chipped away at the Panther advantage, slicing the deficit to three (23-20) on a solo block by McCarthy. Middlebury grabbed the set with kills by Staver and Eliana Schaefer for the 25-21 victory.
The fourth set saw the two teams battle back and forth with neither side holding greater than a three-point lead over the first 32 points. Tied at 16-16, the Panthers tallied a 6-1 spurt, highlighted by a pair of service aces from Chellsa Ferdinand for a five-point advantage (22-17). Middlebury recorded three of the final four points of the set, including a service ace from Staver for the decisive point, and knotted the match at two sets apiece.
In the fifth set, the Panthers possessed a 7-4 advantage on a service ace by Ferdinand, but the Bombers scored seven of the next 10 points, grabbing a 10-9 edge via a kill by McCarthy. Middlebury reeled off a 5-1 spurt, including a pair of kills from Sessions, for a 14-11 lead. Middlebury had three shots at match point, but the Bombers tallied the five points, with the clinching tally on a kill from Goldstein for the five-set victory.
Raffel led the Panther attack with 18 kills to go along with 10 digs for a double-double, while Sessions added 13 kills. Blackburn handed out 32 assists and a pair of service aces, while Gigi Alper and Emily Kolodka had 17 and 11 digs, respectively. Ferdinand dished out 10 assists and tallied a match-best five service aces. English led the Panthers at the net with seven block assists, while Roberts added four block assists.
Ithaca was paced by McCarthy and Goldstein with 20 kills each, while Katie Evans and Caroline Gerulskis both chipped in with nine. Kayla Gromen (29) and Caitlyn Floyd (27) quarterbacked the Bomber offense, while Tara Stilwell dug up a match-best 35 digs and Gromen added 13 for Ithaca. Amanda Cerruti recorded six total blocks for the Bombers.