The Middlebury volleyball team opened play during the two-day New England Challenge with a 3-1 victory Friday evening over Babson (17-5) by scores of 25-20, 25-16, 24-26, 26-24 in Williams' Chandler Gymnasium. The Panthers (15-5) return to action Saturday, playing an 11:00 a.m. match against Springfield followed by a 3:30 p.m. contest with 15th-ranked MIT.
The first set saw numerous lead changes and ties between the teams. Tied at 16-16, the Panthers rattled off five quick points for a 21-16 advantage, including a pair of service aces from Shea Golden. Middlebury closed the set out on a kill from Becca Raffel for the 25-20 victory.
With set number two knotted at 6-6, the Panthers tallied seven of the next nine points for a 13-8 lead. Babson slowly chipped away at the deficit, cutting it to three (15-12) via a kill by Catherine Hunter. Middlebury responded with a 7-1 run of its own, grabbing a 22-13 lead on a Beaver attack error. The Panthers moved ahead 2-0 on a Babson attack error and a 25-15 victory.
In set three, Babson quickly jumped out to a 7-1 edge, highlighted by a pair of kills from Gabby Miller. Middlebury answered with a 9-1 run for a 10-8 lead, including a trio of kills from Sarah Staver. The Beavers fought back, tying the set at 11-11 before both teams tallied four-point runs. The Panthers led 24-23, but a service error along with kills from Babson's Kristin Carosotto and Allie Puccio claimed the set for the Beavers.
Ahead by one at 8-7 in the fourth set, Babson rattled five of the next seven points for a 13-9 edge on a block assist from Sabrina Lechner and Puccio. The Panthers roared all the way back, tying the set at 17-17 on a block assists from Chellsa Ferdinand and Staver. The Beavers scored six of the ensuing nine points for a 23-20 advantage, but Middlebury leveled the set at 23-23 on a Beaver attack error. After trading the next two points, a Babson ball-handling error and attack error sealed the set and the match.
Raffel paced a balanced Middlebury attack with nine kills, while Staver had eight and Ferdinand and Alice Roberts both produced seven. Ferdinand dished out 28 assists to go along with six kills, while Golden tallied a match-best four service aces. Defensively, Gigi Alper led Middlebury with 22 digs, while Raffel and Ferdinand chipped in with 13 and 12, respectively. Staver finished with two block solos and five block assists, while Eliana Schaefer was credited with four block assists.
Puccio paced the Beavers with 12 kills, while Carosotto was right behind with 11. Elizabeth Cameron compiled a match-best 33 assists as well as a team-high three service aces. Abby Beecher led all players with 27 digs, while Cameron was also in double figures with 10. Carosotto led the play at the net with two block solos and two block assists for the Beavers.