After three straight losses to NESCAC opponents, the volleyball team needed victories against conference rivals Hamilton and Middlebury in order to extend its season past the final home match on Oct. 31. The team accomplished half the task, defeating Hamilton in a nail-biting five-setter Friday evening before falling to a tough Middlebury squad the following day.
“The win over Hamilton was a great victory, and especially exciting since we defeated them in five sets,” said Rachel Savage ’17.
The first set against Hamilton started out dead even, with steady defense and opportunistic kills by both teams leveling the score at nine. A strong serving run propelled the Continentals to a 19-14 lead, and Hamilton was able to take the set 25-22 despite a furious Cardinal comeback. Wesleyan responded in the second set, rallying behind spectacular kills from first-year duo Tyla Taylor ’18 and Sarah Swenson ’18 to take a commanding 18-11 lead.
The Continentals made a strong push to remain in the set at 19-18, but the Cardinals would not be denied, capturing six of the following seven points to even the set score at one apiece.
Wesleyan trailed for the majority of the third set due to costly hitting errors and solid net play from the Continentals, but critical kills from Taylor were enough to even the score at 19. The two teams then traded points to make the score 23-22 in favor of the Cardinals, and two straight kills from Taylor paved the way to a Wesleyan victory.
Hamilton came out with guns blazing in the fourth set, leading by as much as 12-4 before the Cardinals were able to regain their composure and get within one point at 19-18. A Continental hitting error leveled the score at 21, and timely kills by both sides tied the set 24-24. A costly service error by Wesleyan gave Hamilton a set point, and a Continental kill made the final set score 26-24.
The Cardinals showed why they remained unbeaten in decisive sets this season, jumping to a 5-3 lead before a five-point run by the Continentals made the score 8-5 when the two teams switched sides. Wesleyan rallied following the respite, capturing seven of the next eight points to take a 12-9 lead. Hamilton was able to get within one at 13-12, but two well-placed kills by Taylor gave the Cardinals their fifth five-set victory this season.
Taylor set the tone for the Wesleyan attack with a match-high 19 kills, while Swenson was a close second with 18. Setter Claire Larson ’15 posted a whopping 57 assists for the match, and libero Rachel Savage ’17 compiled 31 digs. Naja Lewis ’17 paced the Cardinal defense with seven blocks. Wesleyan is now 22-4 all-time versus Hamilton with their last loss against the Continentals taking place all the way back in October of 2000.
Wesleyan’s impressive execution and clutch offensive play carried over into the first of Saturday’s matchups against Middlebury, as the Cardinals took an early nine-point lead and never looked back, taking the set 25-16. The Panthers regrouped in the second set, matching Wesleyan’s offense stride for stride and evening the score at 19 apiece before running away with the set 25-18. The Panthers proved themselves to be a playoff-caliber team in the following two sets, dominating in all areas of the court and capitalizing on Wesleyan errors to capture the sets 25-16 and 25-15 respectively.
“The loss against Middlebury was especially tough,” Savage said. “The fact that we beat them in the first set proved that we could’ve won the match, but unfortunately the pieces didn’t come together.”
Once again, Taylor led Wesleyan’s offensive effort with 17 kills, and Swenson contributed 13. Larson posted 37 assists and Savage added 20 digs. Lewis compiled six more impressive blocks. The team’s last triumph over Middlebury took place last season at the Wesleyan quad.
Despite Wesleyan’s victory against Hamilton, a Continentals win over Trinity on Saturday dashed the Cardinals’ hopes of a NESCAC tournament appearance since the team can now not place higher than ninth in its conference.
The Cardinals were adamant about ending their season on a high note, however.
“We have two weeks left in season, and hopefully we can end with some wins,” Savage said. “I especially hope to end with a victory against Bates.”
The squad will put a 10-9 record to the test with matches against Smith College and Wheaton College at the Hall of Fame Classic in Massachusetts this coming weekend.