|Brigid Bell led the Jumbos with 15 kills and added 17 digs to the day.|
MEDFORD – The second-seeded Middlebury volleyball team won a hard fought battle with first-seeded Tufts on Sunday afternoon to win the 2016 NESCAC volleyball championship. Becca Raffel led the Panthers with 15 kills and 26 digs and Isabel Sessions helped with 12 kills as the Panthers won their fifth conference title and their first since 2012.
With the win the Panthers improve to 18-8 and will receive the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. With the loss the Jumbos are now 23-3 and will await a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Jumbos came out on fire and took an early lead in the first set, moving to a 25-14 win. But, the Panthers responded immediately and quickly took set two, 25-19, to even the match at one each.
The Panthers and the Jumbos would battle in set three as the Jumbos took an early lead but weren't able to hold on. With a 7-3 lead, the Panthers started their comeback, and tied the match at 11 thanks to a kill from Raffel and a Jumbo error. The set would be tied two more times, but with things tied at 14 the Panthers got two kills from Raffel and a service ace from Gigi Alper to take the lead they would not give up. The Panthers won, 25-19, in set three to take the 2-1 match lead.
The fourth set might have been the closest of the day. The Jumbos lead for nearly the entire set until the Panthers scored three consecutive points to tie the set at 24 with a couple of Jumbo errors and two kills from Raffel. But, the Jumbos would get a kill from freshman Brigid Bell and a Panther error to take set four 26-24.
In the match deciding fifth set, it was the Jumbos that once again took a lead. But, down 10-6 the Panthers started their comeback and scored seven points behind the serve of Raffel before the Jumbos got a point thanks to a Panther error. Up, 13-11, two Jumbo errors gave the Panthers the conference title with the 15-11 win in the fifth set.
Raffel's 15 kills led the Panthers with Sessions adding 12. Melanie English had a great day at the net, finishing with six blocks as Sarah Staver, Eliana Schaefer and Alice Roberts all added three of their own. Hannah Blackburn finished with 29 digs, and Raffel and Alper each added 26 digs on the day. Blackburn and Chellsa Ferdinand took care of the setting, finishing with 23 and 13 assists, respectively.
For the Jumbos it was Bell that was the offensive leader with 15 kills while senior McKenzie Humann added ten and freshman Maddie Stewart finished with seven. Humann also added six blocks, four solo, and Stewart had four blocks on the day. Freshman Kelly Klimo tallied 31 digs and junior co-captain Alex Garrett added 18, while Bell turned in 17. Sophomore Angela Yu and freshman Rachel Furash ran the offense for the Jumbos, with Yu tallying 24 assists and Furash finishing with 17.
The NCAA selection show is at 12:30 pm on Monday and at that time the Panthers will find out where they will be continuing their season and the Jumbos will hope for an at-large bid to continue theirs.