c/o Lianne Yun, Staff Photographer

c/o Lianne Yun, Staff Photographer

Your Wesleyan Cardinals are Little Three Champions! The women’s volleyball team did what they do best this weekend, beating the Amherst Mammoths three sets to none to clinch a long overdue title that ended a nearly 25 year drought. The early morning start didn’t seem to faze the team as much as it did their fan section — the players showed energy from the start, while pre-caffeinated students had a hard time showing the same liveliness. Yet when Gabby Bennett ’20 opened up the first set with a powerful kill, giving Wes the first point of the match, the spectators were able to muster a few strong cheers as they prepared for a long day of barracking amid the action-packed volleyball.

The first several points of the set went back and forth, but when Amherst lost their focus for just a moment, Wesleyan made sure to capitalize on the opening. The Mammoths watched as a ball fell to the ground between them, each member of the team sure someone else was going to hit it, and then lost two more quick points to make it 10-5 in favor of the Cards. After a much needed Amherst timeout, Wes didn’t let up the pressure and made a run to take the first set 25-15.

In the next set, the Red and Black continued to dominate. Bennett scored the first point again, and the Red Birds quickly took a 7-2 lead. Throughout the rest of the set, there were moments where Amherst hinted at a comeback but never succeeded, and Wes won the second 25-16.

Wes scored first in the third set as well, this time taking the first five points, with Amherst only scoring on a blocking error. After a series of controversial calls from the referee, Amherst began to show signs of life, coming back to only be down 6-5. The points went back and forth, and Amherst was eventually able to tie the score at 10. Then, an Amherst blocking error gave Wesleyan the lead, and they never let it go.

Kills from Bennett and Stasie Litinsky ’20 helped the Cards find a comfortable 22-13 lead, forcing another Mammoth timeout. As Sigma’s “Nobody to Love” blared over the loudspeaker, the team and fans alike could sense imminent victory. The players danced in their huddle, and the crowd got to their feet and cheered. Wes gave up one more point on a service error but then cruised their way to a decisive victory of 25-14 as Phia Bellizzi ’21 set up Harper Graves ’21 for a game-ending kill. For the first time since 1992 and only the second time in school history, the Cardinals Volleyball squad was able to hold up the Little Three banner.

The Dirty Birds did exactly what they needed to do. Coach Ben Somera was thrilled with their success in this match, believing that, as the season progressed, the players gained confidence in themselves.

“A lot of moving parts had to come together,” he noted, referring to the hours of practice and mental preparation the team puts in every day. “Amherst is a good team, they have a lot of talent, and to win that convincingly should give our team a lot of confidence in their ability to bring out their best on demand.”

The Cardinals also played Friday night, sweeping conference rival Trinity College in three sets. Again, the Red and Black were in control, playing as a unit to ensure victory. While Trinity struggled to play cleanly and consistently, Wes was able to maintain a .204 kill percentage with lots of help from Graves, who had 10 kills to go along with a .667 kill percentage. So, 25-14, 25-20, and 25-18, the Red Birds again swept all three sets for the win.

The action did not stop there. Saturday afternoon, Wes faced a challenging team from the Stevens Institute of Technology. Though they comfortably took the first set 25-18, the second set was not so easy. The score went back and forth throughout the match, neither team backing down until Stevens eventually came away with a 32-30 victory. After losing their fourth set of the season, the Cardinals stepped up and made sure to not lose a fifth. The team followed the second set with an easy 25-10 win in the third, and then a closer 25-23 victory in the fourth set to close out the game.

In this game, Nicole Hilton ’20 shined, accounting for 16 kills with a .469 kill percentage. Kaira Muraoka-Robertson ’20 continued to provide a solid base for the offense with 46 assists, helping Hilton, Litinsky, and Robi Frederick ’21 lead the team in kills.

As the Cardinals approach the halfway point of their season, they have already met two out of the three goals they set last month. They beat a nationally ranked team in their victory against Christopher Newport University last week and won the Little Three title this week. They are currently 12-1 overall. Next, they are looking to become conference champions, which Somera knows they can achieve.

“We got what we need in terms of variety of our play, we just need to hold our play at a high level for a long period of time,” he said.

Up next, the Cardinals will face off at Western Connecticut State on Thursday night, then Union College on Friday night, and will round out the weekend at Middlebury on Saturday afternoon.

Rose Griffin can be reached at rgriffin@wesleyan.edu