c/o Wesleyan Athletics

c/o Wesleyan Athletics

With back-to-back wins over Williams on Friday, Oct. 6, and Amherst on Saturday Oct. 7, Wesleyan volleyball officially secured the Little Three Championship for the second straight year and sixth time in program history. With these wins, the Red and Black raise their overall record to 13–1 and 6–0 as they maintain their stronghold at the top of the NESCAC standings. 

For the Cards, any Little Three match presents a great opportunity to prove themselves. However, the accomplishment also comes with a lot of pressure.

“So, of course last year, you can’t forget how [the Ephs] swept us in the NCAA Regionals,” outside hitter Sophia Lindus ’26 said. “So a lot of animosity, definitely, going into the game and wanting to avenge that loss. The Little Three is also obviously such a big thing for our team, that it’s always looming over our heads, no matter how far away we are from those games.”

After a difficult loss to Williams in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Cards wanted revenge on Oct. 6, which showed in practice leading up to the matchup.

“So we definitely knew that this was a game where we had to take care of all the routine balls on our side, and keep pursuing all those scrappy plays, because we knew that they were going to be doing the same thing,” Lindus said.

The Cards felt confident in their preparation, but they still had a lot to prove as they walked into the gym to face the Ephs. In just the first set, they were tested. After going back and forth early in the set, Williams used five straight points to give them a 10–16 lead, putting pressure on the Red and Black to fight back in the all-important opener. The Cards did just that as they clawed their way back slowly, eventually tying the set 22–22 on their own run of five straight points. Then, Williams destroyed this recovery with three straight kills that secured the first set. This marked the first time all season that the Cards were down a set to a NESCAC opponent, but they were far from throwing in the towel. 

The second was all Wesleyan to begin, as they won the first six points and established a commanding lead, but late in the set the Ephs fought back, tying the set at 21–21. Now the Cards found themselves in a similar situation as the first set, but instead of falling to the Ephs, they scored four of the last five points sealing the set on a kill by Lindus.

If this game followed how many Cardinals volleyball matchups have gone this year, the Cards would have easily won the next two sets and left with a win. However, the Ephs came out fighting again in the third, presenting an unusual challenge. Although the Cards fought to the end, Williams put away the set 25–21 to give themselves two sets to one lead. 

This position was completely unfamiliar to the Cardinals, and it only got more uncomfortable as Williams kept their momentum going into the fourth set. They landed with a 20–23 lead, two points away from defeating the Cardinals and spoiling their hopes for a Little Three title. 

“During that part, I think I blacked out,” Lindus said of the fourth set. “Nothing that I was doing, I was thinking about. It was all just the flow of the game, which is something that a lot of my teammates and I have talked about. That’s when we play our best because we’re so in the zone and we’re so present in the moment. And it’s hard to be present, especially when you’re at another gym and their fans are heckling you and you’re losing and you could go home. So I just remember all of us just playing really well.”

“Playing well” is an understatement. In the most important moment of the game, the Cards showed Williams what they were made of. Winning five straight points on errors by the Ephs and kills by Lindus and outside hitter Michelle Jorba ’25, they tied the match at two sets apiece, with all the momentum in favor of the Red and Black.

“Once we did that, and the set ended, and we were going to this fifth set, I think we all took a breath and were like, that just happened,” Lindus said. “I’ve never been on a team whose mentality is so much like we can always win this game. And this is super cocky, but my team and I were talking about it after. And we were like, ‘Yeah, first few sets.’ I wasn’t sure what was really going to happen. But just in my heart of hearts, I knew that we weren’t gonna lose this game. I didn’t know how we were gonna win, but I knew that we weren’t gonna lose.”

The team’s sense of intuition, cockiness, or whatever you want to call it, told them that they were gonna win, and they were absolutely right.

The fifth set was all Cardinals, as they beat the Ephs 15–8. They walked off the court exhausted, triumphant, and with their Little Three hopes very much alive. The only thing that stood in their way was awaiting in Amherst, MA, the next day.

“Once we pulled that out of the bag, then we were like, wow, this is something really crazy that we figured out how to do,” said Lindus. “And this is something that’s gonna really help us both playing Amherst the next day, but also just for weeks to come for the rest of the season.”

The Cards traveled to play the Mammoths on Saturday, Oct. 7, and what they lacked in energy they made up for with their resolve to win. The Cards expected another battle with Amherst, but Wes was in control from the opening serve.

“We definitely expected them to be a really good source of competition, but out the gate we just took the reins,” Lindus said of the matchup with Amherst. “And we just went and they were never able to catch up.”

The Cards demolished the Mammoths in the first set 25–14, removing any hope that Amherst may have cherished of taking a one set lead as Williams had. In the second, the Mammoths were closer, but were still no match for the powerful Cardinals. The third was more of the same as Wes closed the door, winning seven of the last nine points and winning 25–15.

With that win, the Red and Black secured the Little Three Championship, an impressive feat that shows their mental fortitude as well as their amazing ability to perform under pressure. 

“It’s so much fun,” Lindus said of the championship. “Because not only are you playing with some of your best friends on campus, you’re doing something that you love to do. Like when you play Division III sports, you’re not playing for a scholarship, you’re not playing for an NIL deal you’ve signed. You’re playing because you love the game and you love your school. And I feel like especially in these intense rivalries with Williams, with Amherst, it is so fun to just say, ‘Go Wes!’ sing the fight song on the way back, and just feel so patriotic for your school. And then you get to celebrate.”

The Cardinals will continue their season this weekend with two NESCAC matches at home against Conn. College on Friday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. and against Bowdoin on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. With the momentum from the Little Three, they will be a force to be reckoned with for any team that crosses their path.

 

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu.

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