After a heartbreaking loss to Middlebury last weekend ended its postseason aspirations, the volleyball team looked to finish its season with pride at the Hall of Fame Classic hosted by Smith and Amherst this past weekend. The team left Massachusetts with two wins and one loss. The Birds defeated Smith College and NESCAC rival Hamilton, and fell to Wheaton College in three sets later that day. The win against Hamilton brought Wesleyan’s conference record up to 2-7 and clinched the team its first winning season since 2008 with an overall record of 12-10.
The Cardinals looked sharp in their opening match against Smith, taking control of the net early on and capitalizing on Pioneer mistakes to take the first set easily 25-12. Smith showed a little life in the second set, improving its serving and reducing its errors, but impressive kills from Tyla Taylor ’18 held the Pioneers at bay and helped the Cardinals capture the set 21-17. The third set was tight affair, with strong defense from both sides leveling the score on three separate occasions. Wesleyan would not be denied, however, posting several critical kills to seal the match with a 25-21 victory. Taylor paced Wesleyan’s offense with 16 kills, helped by senior setter Claire Larson’s 19 assists. Rachel Savage ’17 compiled nine digs and Naja Lewis ’17 was good for three blocks. Wesleyan is now 9-10 all-time against Smith, with its last victory against the Pioneers taking place at home back in 2006.
The crisp execution and timely kills exhibited in Friday’s match against Smith were notably absent in Saturday’s confrontation against Wheaton. The Lyons pummeled the Cardinals in just three short sets. Wheaton looked dominant in the first set of the match, covering all areas of the court exceptionally well and rebuffing every Cardinal attack to take the set 25-20. Wesleyan looked lost in the second set of the match, committing hitting error after hitting error and failing to communicate defensively to lose the set by 14 points, its largest margin of defeat all season. The team’s offensive struggles continued in the third set, and Wheaton was able to take advantage, posting four kills in a row to capture the set 25-17. Sarah Swenson ’18 posted eight kills in a match where the Cardinals committed more hitting errors than winners, and Larson amassed 16 assists. Savage shone defensively with 18 digs. Wesleyan still holds a winning record all-time against Wheaton at 12-10, though the Cardinals’ last victory over the Lyons dates back to 2006.
Wesleyan’s final match of the weekend against Hamilton played out smoothly compared to the dramatic five-set victory over the Continentals last weekend, as the Cardinals steamrolled the Continentals 3-0 en route to their second NESCAC victory this season. Wesleyan’s defense shone in the opening set, disrupting the Continental attack and setting up kills from outside hitters Swenson and Taylor to take the set 25-19. The Cardinals continued their impressive play in second set, with aces from Savage and two key blocks from Sarah Small ’18 paving the way to a 25-20 victory. Hamilton started the third set strong, but Wesleyan quickly gained the lead behind kills from Swenson and never gave it back, capturing the set 25-17. Swenson posted 14 kills for the match, and Larson added 28 assists. Savage’s 19 digs, seven assists, and four aces, meanwhile, earned her a spot on the Classic’s all-tournament team. The victory against the Continentals marked Wesleyan’s 14th straight win over Hamilton.
“The win against Hamilton felt great,” Savage said, following her qualification for the all-tournament team. “It was probably the best that the team has collectively played this season. Finishing strong in all three sets really sets our momentum for our last match of the season this coming weekend.”
The Cardinals will attempt to end its season on a high note when they host Bates for its final match of the year this coming Friday.