The air is finally getting cooler, Halloweekend has come and gone, and the NESCAC Volleyball Championship is here! This weekend, the women’s volleyball team will travel to Medford, Mass. to play their chance to be NESCAC champions. Despite falling to Tufts three sets to one last weekend, the team is more than ready for a run deep into the playoffs. The Cardinals will first face Williams on Friday night, and if they win, then they will play the winner of the Amherst versus Hamilton bout on Saturday night. The championship will be on Sunday, and the competition to get there will be intense.
Though the Ephs struggled with a 5-5 in-conference record this season, statistics prove that they cannot be overlooked. They had an average of 12.15 kills per set to Wesleyan’s 12.99, 11.62 assists per set to Wes’ 12.32, and 17.73 digs per set to Wes’ 17.42. Their low hitting percentage of .174 and low average of blocks per set at .96, combined with the immense competition in this conference, was likely the difference between their victories and close losses.
In the Cardinals’ regular season match against Williams, Wes came out on top with a 3-0 victory. That said, the match was not as easy as the shutout indicates. All three sets were evenly matched, and the Ephs never let Wes run away with a game. With this in mind, the Cardinals must be prepared for a battle. Coming off a hard-fought loss to Middlebury last weekend, losing three sets to two, the Ephs are likely to be fired up and ready to play on Friday night, excited to have another shot at the Red and Black.
When asked how he feels heading into playoffs, Coach Ben Somera displayed the same confidence he’s shown on the sideline all season.
“Our team is doing a lot of things pretty well, and I like our draw, and I’m excited to be the second seed,” Somera said. “There are always things you’re trying to get better at, even at this point in the season, so we’ll kind of put some of those on the docket this week and if we can just get a little bit better at a few things, I feel like we’re ready to go.”
Following a regular season with the best winning percentage since 2001, Somera has reason to be excited. Last year, the team was 6-4 in conference play and ranked fourth in the NESCAC. This season, they only lost two conference games and find themselves ranked second heading into the tournament. Only Tufts, with a perfect record, places above them.
Somera credits the team’s jump in rank to its maturity. Though the team is still young, having a core of players who know what it’s like to compete in a playoff atmosphere should make a big difference in this year’s postseason run.
“Last year we had ten freshmen that we took into the conference tournament, now nine of those are sophomores, so they are a little more experienced,” he said. “This season has better prepared us than last year. ”
Though the Cardinals prefer to focus more on their team as a whole, rather than on any standout players, there are a few figures who are likely to make a big impact this postseason, as they have throughout the fall. Names that pop up in every article—NESCAC player of the week Stasie Litinsky ’20, Defensive Specialist Phia Bellizzi ’21, the team’s top assister, Kaira Muraoka-Robertson ’20, and the player with the most kills, Nicole Hilton ’20—will undoubtedly continue their domination this weekend.
As Friday night approaches, Somera is careful to remain cautiously optimistic.
“I like the draw we got, all three teams are teams we beat during the regular season, Williams and then Middlebury both are on the same side of our bracket,” Somera said. “And the two teams we happened to lose to play each other on Friday night. So, one of those teams is going to be eliminated which may leave us with…who knows if we make it all the way to Sunday.”
On Sunday afternoon, whoever is left standing will automatically receive a berth in the NCAA Division III Championship. If the Cardinals clinch this position, it will be their first appearance in the tournament since 2001. And, the great news is, you can watch it all unfold, live, by heading to the NESCAC website and catching a live stream of the games online. Go Cards!
Rose Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.