By Illan Ireland
Though the volleyball team failed to qualify for the NESCAC tournament for the sixth consecutive year, there was still much excitement surrounding the women’s final match of the season against conference rival Bates last Friday evening, Oct. 31. The confrontation would be the last of Gale Lackey’s illustrious career as Wesleyan’s head volleyball coach and would cap off the Cardinals’ first winning season since 2008. The team also bid farewell to five seniors following the match, among them Captain Claire Larson ’15, who captured a record number of assists this season. The Cardinals rose to the occasion, sending their coach off in style with a 3-0 sweep of the Bobcats and earning an overall record of 13-10 for the season.
“It was great to end the season with a win against Bates, especially on our coach’s last day with us,” said libero Rachel Savage ’17, who finished the match with two aces.
Wesleyan came out with guns blazing in the first set, scoring four successive points before Bates stormed back to the lead at 6-4. The remainder of the set was deadly close, with furious attacks and consistent defense from both sides leveling the score seven times between points 12 and 24. A Bobcat kill at 24-24 gave Bates a set point, but the Cardinals responded with their backs against the wall, rattling off three straight points to capture the set 27-25 on a kill from Sarah Small ’18.
After forging an impressive 14-9 lead in the second set behind kills from first-years Sarah Swenson and Tyla Taylor, a lapse from the Cardinals allowed Bates to claw its way back to within one at 20-19. An ace by Small stymied the Bobcat charge, however, and five points later, the Cardinals had the set in the bag, 25-20.
The third set was an equally dramatic affair, with impressive serving giving the Cardinals a 10-7 lead. However, an equally tight defense allowed Bates to tie the match at 13 and 14 apiece. Five of the next six points then went to the Cardinals, but Bates refused to go down without a fight and managed tied the score at 21. The Bobcats finally took the lead at 23-22, but kills from Swenson on two of the next three points helped the Cardinals seal the 25-23 win.
Swenson and Taylor led Wesleyan’s attack, combining for 32 of the team’s 45 kills. Larson finished her final game in red and black with a whopping 41 assists, and Savage set the tone defensively with 15 digs. The team also finished the match with six blocks and five aces. Wesleyan is now 12-26 all-time against Bates, though the two teams have split victories over the past four seasons. The win also marked the Cardinals’ third NESCAC win of the year, boosting them to ninth place in the conference.
“It was definitely bittersweet to have played my last match with our seniors,” Savage said. “They will be tremendously missed for the skill they brought to the court, but even more for the emotional leadership they all individually provided.”
The win Friday night was the 490th of Lackey’s career, helping her reach 16 winning seasons as the Cardinal head coach in addition to 21 NESCAC tournament bids and one NCAA tournament appearance in 2001 since she began coaching at Wesleyan in 1978.
The Cardinals certainly have a lot of positives to take away from this past season, among them two consecutive wins against Hamilton and an undefeated record in matches that went to decisive fifth sets. The team will enter the off-season with high hopes for the 2015 season, despite the loss of Lackey and seniors Brittany Lo, Sara Warnock, Natalie Wildenradt, Claire Larson, and Emily Shames.
“We were a very young team this year,” Savage said. “But our potential is off the charts and showed we have what it takes to match the best of NESCAC. Expect great things from us next year.”