Amherst, Williams, WCSU all down volleyball in straight sets.

Following several dominating performances against non-conference opponents over the past three weeks, the volleyball team appeared ready to prove they could give the best of the NESCAC a run for their money entering Little Three weekend. The team looked to extend their four-game winning streak with matches against traditional conference powerhouses Amherst and Williams on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. In both cases, however, the Cardinals were outclassed, losing to the Ephs 15-25, 20-25, and 17-25 before falling to the Lord Jeffs in straight sets the following day.

“We played well against Williams and fought hard, but I think our energy was more inconsistent than we had wanted [this past] weekend,” said Jen Farris ’16. “It was a tough loss against Amherst, but we are hoping to approach our upcoming matches with more confidence, consistency, and persistence.”

The team indeed gave its all in every set against reigning NESCAC champs Williams, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first set before the Ephs took control of the net and went on to win the set by 10. Tight defense and spectacular kills by both teams in the second set leveled the score at 18, yet once again the Ephs would not be denied. They rattled off a six to two run before the final point ended the set at 25-20. The Cardinals managed to tie the third set at nine, but strong serving and dominating net play from Williams propelled them to a 25-17 win and a straight-set victory.

“There were a lot of great plays in the match against Williams, and it was the fastest that we had ever run our offense and defense,” said Rachel Savage ’17. “There are definitely some good things [the team] can take away from that match.”

Tyla Taylor ’18 led the Cardinals’ attack with eight kills against the Ephs, while Sarah Swenson ’18 added six. Captain Claire Larson ’15, a reliable setter, compiled 19 assists, and Savage led the defensive front with 12 digs. Wesleyan has now failed to defeat Williams in four straight seasons, with its last victory versus the Ephs taking place at the Conn College Invitational in 2009.

The team appeared sluggish and emotionally drained during their Saturday match against Amherst, losing the first set rather abruptly 17-25 before rallying to tie the second set at 19, largely the result of tight defense and some spectacular kills by Taylor. Strong serving by the Cardinals gave the team a set point at 24-22, but clutch execution by the Jeffs helped them take the set 26-24. The third set showed precisely why Amherst was a strong contender for the NESCAC championship last season, as the Jeffs dominated all areas of the court and took the set 25-18 despite the Cardinals’ best efforts.

Once again, Taylor led the Wesleyan charge with 15 kills and 12 digs while Larson accumulated 28 assists. Savage compiled 22 digs and Naja Lewis ’17 added 3 blocks. The Cardinals’ last victory against Amherst was back in 2008 at the Wesleyan quad. The team was last crowned Little Three champion in 1992.

The squad looked to bounce back from the two-game skid with a match against Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) on Wednesday evening, yet once again the Cardinals fell short, losing in straight sets 19-25, 20-25, and 11-25. While the first two sets appeared fairly competitive with solid defense and strong net play from both sides, the Redbirds looked lost in the final set, scoring fewer than 15 points for the first time all season.

Taylor topped the kills list for the Cards with nine, while Abby Southam ’16 added six. Larson compiled 20 assists and Savage totaled 18 digs. The team is now 24-16 all-time versus WCSU, but has lost to the Colonials in back-to-back seasons.

Wes did not appear totally discouraged following three straight losses, however, choosing to learn from its defeats and working to develop a faster-paced, more complete game.

“It hurt a lot to lose these past three matches, especially when we knew that we had all the parts that, when put together, would have won us the match,” Savage said. “But I guess it’s good to feel this sense of urgency. We now recognize that complacency will not do, and we have a lot more work to put in to be the best we can. We now know that if we build our stamina, and string these short bursts of intense speed and focus together, we can beat the strongest teams in the ’Cac.”

The team will look to get back on track for a NESCAC tournament appearance in the Battle of the Birds in Hartford against Trinity this coming Friday, before its penultimate non-conference game Saturday against Husson University. Wes is 44-23 all-time against the Bantams, but has lost seven straight, the last two of which have gone the full five sets. Trinity sits tied with Wesleyan at the bottom of conference standings at 0-2 in-league.

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