Monday, September 29, 2008

Good Weekend at Amherst Classic

We played pretty well overall at the Amherst Classic, going 2-1 for the weekend. We outmatched Westfield State on Friday night, and that proved to be the easiest of our three matches. After a very interesting, fun, and varied dinner at the Whole Foods hot-bar, we returned to our hotel to have an early night, which was a nice treat for us. (I had never been to Whole Foods, and the choices were tremendous! Thanks to Jane's mom, who provided food galore for us the next day, we could splurge a little at Whole Foods, which was a nice luxury too! And, she bought us a bunch of cookies for dessert too--thank you!!)

On Saturday morning we faced Amherst for the second time so far this year (one more to go!). We were much more poised this time playing them, and despite losing the first two games by narrow margins, we came out still fighting to win every point in the 3rd game. Our serve receive at times was the best it's been in a long time, which was GREAT to see. Behind that great serve receive, and very solid defense, our offense was allowed to shine a bit, and we took the 3rd game from them, somewhat handily. We just had our game clicking, and kept the pressure on them, and caught them out of sorts, and just overpowered them in that game. Unfortunately, that didn't last long, and they stormed back and caught us almost off-guard, it seemed, to take the game winner by a substantial margin.

Brian commented after that match, however, that at points, he thought our serve receive looked better than it has in any of the 6 seasons he's worked at Middlebury. I think we all felt good about that, and we look forward to keeping and building on that success!

Our final match of the weekend was against Brandeis, and we knew it would be another tough match-up. After losing the first game by a narrow margin, we rebounded very well, and were able to win the next two games somewhat handily. We had a tough fight on our hands in the 4th game as they were not going to just roll over. We prevailed behind both a mammoth performance from an individual, and some great balance with the rest of the team, including some excellent bench play.

Jane had a huge game posting 24 kills in the 4-game victory. This, we've now found out, ties her for 5th in the all-time history of MIDD Volleyball for kills in a single match. That was exciting, and her mom was here from Chicago to see it, which was even nicer. We had strong bench play, and our defense continues to empower our offense, which is always nice to see.

I wouldn't be telling the whole story of visiting Amherst if I didn't mention what we had to eat on the way home. Not only did we have all of Jane's mom's food that was leftover (bars, snacks, gatorade, fruit, etc.), but we also had homemade goodies from Lauren's mom, and Ellen's mom!! Needless to say, we had dessert taken care of! We all pretty much love the options in Amherst, and we have some different favorites. Several people headed off the the Black Sheep for some amazing deli sandwiches, while a couple went for Burritos. Reisa and I were looking for some pad thai, and Josie was looking for some curry, but the good Thai place didn't open for another 15 minutes, and we really wanted to get on the road--next time! I went for the Noodles Shop Pad Thai, which is good, but not as good as the other place, and Josie ended up with Mexican. We all were very satisfied, and enjoyed just laughing and watching movies on the way home.

Our lone match this week coming up is against Skidmore, and then we have our one weekend off, which will be a nice break for all, especially since it's Fall Family Weekend!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Home Opener in the Bubble is Tough Loss to Union

The home opener proved to be quite the match! We had a good crowd that found us at our new home in the Bubble, which was great. Union was coming in at 16-1, and took the first game 27-29, even though you only play to 25. It kept going back and forth with both teams about to run out of subs before Union pulled out the victory. That first game was a good indication of what was to come the rest of the night. The next 3 games flip-flopped winners, all with scores of 18-25, with us winning two of the three to tie it at 2-2. We had gotten off to slow starts in every game, and the worst time to have that happen is in a 5th game. That's exactly what we did, unfortunately. We fought back, but eventually ran up against the wall of 15 sooner, and dropped the last game 11-15. It was a night that saw a lot of good attacking, and tough serving on both sides, but we felt like the "out of system" plays needed to be better on our side. We had a balanced attack again, with a large part of our offense coming from Jane and Lindsay, both with 17 Kills. Kate, Whit, and Elissa all came through with solid hitting games with 7, 8, and 6 kills apiece. Natalie, Reisa and Olivia all anchored the defense tonight, and served tough, which really took them out of the game they wanted to play quite a bit. We scrambled well, and kept a lot of balls in play, which was great to see defensively. it's a tough loss to have at home, but we'll be back at practice tomorrow to keep fine-tuning and honing our skills to take back on the road this weekend when we go to the Amherst Classic.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Good Showing at First NESCAC Weekend

We traveled to Hamilton to face the three Connecticut Schools. Yes, that's a typical NESCAC weekend for us, even though it rarely makes sense to anyone else. We opened with Trinity, who has been a thorn in our sides for quite a few years! A splinter in our foot may be more appropriate. We've had multiple 5 game matches with them over the last several years. I believe that we've lost most of those, if not all of them the last few years, but NOT THIS TIME!

It was another grueling, albeit ugly match between us, with both teams tipping, batting and scrambling to try to keep the ball in play. There were spells of good hitting, but that wouldn't appropriately describe the match as a whole. After falling behind 2 games to 1, AND trailing 22-17 in the 4th, we showed what Heart and Soul and MIDD PRIDE can do, and we pulled out that 4th game, and then cruised to a win in the 5th! It was very exciting for us all, and for a coach, the best thing was the Heart that the team showed in just digging deep, and finding it within themselves to pull out that victory. We had a very balanced attack in this match, with five people having 5 or more Kills (Lindsay, Jane, Lauren, Kate and Whit). Our defense was balanced with everyone contributing, and both Ollie and Reisa did a nice job helping our defensive efforts both with serve receive, and with digging the junk that they were dishing out, although they were trying to tip us to death! Nat was our defensive anchor again with 28 digs.

We were the last ones to leave the gym that night due to the long match, and it was very nearly 10:00 pm when we finished, maybe even later. Lindsay's parents were so kind as to bring food to the match for us to just take back to the hotel and eat--that was a godsend!! After that, we had a relaxing and easy morning. We slept in and then had a team breakfast around 10:00, which is a luxury for a weekend like this. We arrived early to the gym so we could check out what was happening in the early matches, and then we faced Conn. at 1:30.

We came out pretty sharp and ready to go, and won the first two matches by narrow margins, but we felt we were in control of the match. Perhaps that feeling went to our heads a bit, because we failed to come out in the third game with the same fire and desire as the first two, and actually lost rather badly that game. Fortunately, we recovered quickly, and bounced back to win the 4th to take a decisive victory over them. We were led statistically by our outsides, Lindsay and Jane with double digit Kills each, and Elissa and Whit combined for 4 and 5 blocks respectively. Also, Natalie came through with a huge defensive game with 31 digs.

Our last match of the weekend proved to be our toughest, both mentally and physically. Facing a very tough Wesleyan team who had just been defeated by Williams prior to our match, we came out firing away. We took the first game decisively, and knew it was only a matter of time before they woke up out of their funk and started to play. We were prepared for a tough match with them, but we seemed to be showing signs of mental fatigue as much as anything. We played them tough in the 2nd despite their hitters getting more on track. This was the game where we really needed a burst toward the end to fight back to take that game. We couldn't put a string together late, and lost a close one 25-22. Being up 2-0 would have been tough to overcome at that point in the weekend for Wesleyan, but tied 1-1, it was anyone's match. From there, we seemed to have a slow leak, and almost looked as if we were going to throw in the towel, but fortunately we rebounded at the end of the 4th game to make it respectable, despite losing the last three games straight. Elissa had a decent blocking game, but we couldn't get much offense from anywhere except Jane, Lindsay and Whit, with 16, 14, and 6 Kills respectively. Our outside blocks had a tough time, which made our defense cover that much more ground. Also, their OH who is the #1 hitter in our league woke up and blasted us for 17 Kills in the match after a slow first game.

All in all, the weekend was a good success for us as a team. We had left Caroline at home due to health reasons, and it's never good to be missing anyone from a Conference Weekend. I think we all felt good about our accomplishments as a team, and we've started out well at 2-1, but we have a lot of things that we want to work on before we face our next Conference foes. At this point, we're looking forward to our Home Opener on Tuesday night--the first official match in the Bubble! It should be an exciting match against a very tough Union team.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Team Beats St. Michael's

We got off to a somewhat of a rocky start in this match, dropping the first game. Our serve receive struggled a bit, so our offense had trouble getting going also. We made some changes, and I think we started to relax a bit too, which helped in the second game. Game two was pretty much ALL US. They only scored 12 points, and we really looked sharp. Kate Heath came in at the right side and got some good blocks right off the bat, and that helped set the tone for that game. We out-played them in the Middle spot, and got great support from both Lindsay and Jane offensively from the outside. Both Lauren and Kate had 5 Kills from the setter and RH spots, respectively, which provided us with a very balanced attack.

We still need to hone in our blocking, but I think we're making some progress with it. Floor Defense should be a strength of ours, but we're still ironing out some early kinks there also. Our team depth really came through tonight as 12 of our 14 players played in the match. It was a great team win, and we had great contributions from a lot of different people, which is a very good sign. We almost ran out of subs, too, which was new for us. With the new rule changes the allowable subs are down to 12, and I think in the last couple of games we were right at 11. We had great serving support from the bench too, which was nice. St. Micheal's never gave up, though, and to their credit came out in games three and four and kept fighting, despite falling behind repeatedly. We're still working on closing out games more decisively.

Our first NESCAC weekend is coming up this Friday and Saturday, so we're getting geared up for that, and it should be an exciting weekend. We play Trinity first on Friday night, and then Conn. College, and Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon--all played at Hamilton College. We're looking for a little pay-back, as we lost two of these three matches last year in the 5th game.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Season Opens Against Regional Powers

Well, we certainly started the season off with a bang, but not quite the bang we were hoping for. Our first match this season was against the New England Regional winner from last season, and Conference foe Amherst. I'm not exactly sure how to sum it up best, but it was over almost before it started, I think. I'm afraid we may have been shell-shocked. We seemed rusty, nervous, and tight, and they were loose, and firing on all cylinders. We commented after the match that I don't think they gave us one free ball all night, and that was very nearly the truth! They were pounding from the front row and the back row, and never gave us a chance to breathe. It was fairly ugly, so we'll leave it at that.

Amherst may have out-played us on Friday night, but I guarantee that we had a better dinner that night! Thanks to Lauren's gracious family, we all went over to her house for a WONDERFUL dinner. I practically had to drag the team out before midnight so we all could get some sleep. What a nice evening! It did the trick, apparently, as we came to the gym in the morning, and defeated Eastern Connecticut handily in three games. It was great to get a win, and it was great to do it the way we did: using a lot of different people. We're still trying out different combinations to see which ones we like, and which ones work best in different situations etc.

The GREAT news about the team this year is that we have a lot of options! Almost everyone saw action on the court at some point this weekend, and we had a strong showing from our first-years. It's an exciting year because we have a lot of experience with 4 seniors, energetic and talented freshmen, and a host of other upperclassmen to make this the most competitive and deep MIDD team in years. We tried a few different line-ups, and many of them looked good this weekend. Even though we lost two matches, we felt much better about our play as the weekend progressed.

Our last match of the weekend was against host Wellesley, who was also in the Regional Finals last year. They had a powerful offense like Amherst, so we had a challenge in front of us. The good news was that after barely touching a ball with our block against Amherst, we started to get some good touches and even a few stuff blocks. Our defense also started to come around as we dug quite a few of those power blasts, which was great to see. We fought hard to take a game from them, but couldn't quite pull it off, despite Wellesley helping us out by serving into the net several times!

I'm hoping to get some pictures from the weekend up soon, but I wanted to get this out as soon as possible. Despite being so far from home (it took us nearly 5 hours), we had a host of fans, which was really fun! We had parents (and friends/family) for all four of our freshmen there, and also Lauren's parents and older brother who live nearby, so we felt like we had a pretty large cheering section! THANK YOU ALL!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

TEAM does Ropes Course

This was a lot of FUN!! We decided to do a ropes course this year, in part because we had unusual, and not ideal practice facilities, and in part because it's a great team-building exercise. We had a beautiful day, and we did a lot of fun and challenging activities. I think we all experienced an element of challenge, fun, fright, competition, cooperation--oh, and we actually had three C's: cohesion, collaboration, and I forget the last, but will update shortly!

Squad opens with Scrimmage at Plattsburgh

After only 4 days of practice, we thought we'd see where we were against outside competition. We headed over to Plattsburgh, who was 1-4 at the time. It was a successful outing, although we didn't play a real match, just a series of several games. It was informal enough to allow us to stop and explain something on court if we wanted, but formal enough to hopefully get the pre-season jitters out!?! We had strong showings from our returners, and some impressive input from our freshmen class of Ellen Dahlberg, Elissa Goeke, Jane Handel, and Caroline Cordle. I think we're all optimistic about our upcoming season, and will be anxious to head down to Wellesley this weekend where we'll open our season for real. Our first test will be against Amherst on Friday night, and then both Eastern Connecticut and Wellesley on Saturday.