It was a stressful weekend to be a Wesleyan volleyball fan. The team faced off against Union College on Friday night and then Middlebury on Saturday afternoon, and their opponents did not make it an easy road trip.
On Friday night, the team traveled to Schenectady, N.Y., to compete against the Dutchmen of Union College, who were 10-12 on the season.
To begin the game, Wesleyan lost their fifth set of the year. Although they started with a small lead of 3-0, they could not pull away, and, eventually, Union got the better of them, winning the set 25-19.
Both teams were ready to battle from the beginning of the second set. The points went back and forth, the leading team never staying on top for too long. The Cardinals started to pull ahead when a kill from Harper Graves ’21 gave the team a 16-12 lead, but the Dutchmen didn’t let up and the teams fought to a tie at 26. Then, a service error and subsequent attack error from Union gave Wesleyan a much deserved 28-26 set victory.
Though Union scored first in the third set, that was the only time they led. Wesleyan scored seven unanswered points and Union never seemed to regain their footing. The Cards cruised to a 25-12 victory.
After their first set hiccup, they gained momentum and confidence and were able to claim their lucky 13th victory of the season in the fourth set. The Dirty Birds scored the first five points without a Union response and only let the Dutchmen within four points throughout the rest of the set. Stasie Litinsky ’20 and Kaira Muraoka-Robertson ’20, a dynamic duo over the weekend, ended the game when Muraoka-Robertson assisted a Litinsky kill to make the score 25-20.
Litinsky and Graves led the team in kills, and Muraoka-Robertson led the team with 36 assists and three service aces. Phia Bellizzi ’21 once again showed her defensive prowess by adding 25 digs to the Wesleyan box score. But these numbers were not nearly as impressive as those racked up the next day when the Dirty Birds headed north to play the defending NESCAC champions.
If I had a car, the four-hour trek to Middlebury, Vt. on Saturday afternoon would have been well worth the trip—it was the most exciting match of the season by far. Down two sets to none against the Middlebury Panthers, Wesleyan managed to fight back to win the match in five action-packed sets.
The Cardinals started with energy, as usual, and played a competitive first set. The score was 21-19 in favor of Wes before a string of Middlebury points gave the Panthers the first set.
In the second set, the Red and Black seemed to lose focus and the Panthers capitalized, easily pulling away with a 25-11 victory. Down two sets to none: the team had only been in this situation once before, in their lone loss of the season against Juniata. So, statistically, the Cardinals’ perfect in-conference record looked to be at risk. But this was not the same team that lost to Juniata. This team was not afraid of losing and was not caught up in the mistakes they had made earlier in the match. This team was there to win.
The Dirty Birds lost the first point of the third set but were not shaken. They played Middlebury point for point, but after Wesleyan tied it at 14, the Dirty Birds went ahead and never looked back. Madeleine Lundberg ’19, Sarah Swenson ’18, and Grace Rose ’21 all made kills to extend their lead. A final kill by Nicole Hilton ’20 from Muraoka-Robertson made the score 25-19 and kept Wes alive to play another set.
The Cardinals’ confidence grew in the fourth set, claiming the first four points and never letting the Panthers in the game. Though Middlebury didn’t let Wes run away with this set, they couldn’t recover from their early deficit, and a final kill from Gabby Bennett ’20, assisted by Rose, gave Wesleyan a 25-20 victory.
With the score tied at two, the teams entered the fifth and final set. Again, Litinsky and Muraoka-Robertson combined to help Wesleyan score first. Wes went ahead 14-8 before Middlebury came back with a vengeance, scoring six consecutive points to tie the game at 14. The Cards took a timeout, Coach Ben Somera doubtlessly offered some sage words of wisdom, and the team went back on the court to score two quick points and claim victory.
Litinsky again led the team in kills, adding 20 to the team’s total of 59. Bellizzi had 32 digs out of the team’s 88, with Harper Graves adding 12. Rose also had a solid game, contributing 12 assists and 12 digs.
After this demanding weekend, the team is looking forward to refocusing in the coming days to prepare for two matches in Maine over the weekend. The Cardinals will face the Colby Mules on Friday night, followed by the Bates Bobcats on Saturday afternoon.
Rose Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.