Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jane is NESCAC Player of the Week!!

Congratulations to our very own Jane Handel, who was named the NESCAC Volleyball Player of the Week last week! This is very exciting, as the competition for this honor is very tough! I don't think Middlebury has had a Player of the week for, well, too long?! Here is what the write-up said:

"Middlebury College women’s volleyball player Jane Handel (Evanston, Ill.) has been named the NESCAC Player of the Week. Handel continued an impressive rookie season by having a steady week for a Panther team that went 4-0 and won the Silver Bracket of the Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament. Handel averaged 3.70 kills and 3.30 digs per set while hitting at a .366 rate to go along with five aces and a pair of blocks. The Panthers will play their final home match of the season on Wednesday, October 29th against Williams at 7:00 p.m."

Way to go Jane. As I told the team, this is an honor not only for Jane, but for the team as well, because as any good hitter knows, you have to have good defense, and a good setter to be the best hitter you can be, so way to go TEAM too!! BEAT WILLIAMS!!

Also, there are new links up for pictures, courtesy of Ellen's mom, and also Caroline Monniger, so check them out. There are some great pics! BEAT WILLIAMS!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Clean Sweep to Win Silver Bracket; Lindsay MVP

Our goal heading into the weekend was to come away undefeated, and undefeated we were, in real style! We didn't lose a single game, and no one scored more than 17 points against us in any game all weekend! We were seeded first in the Silver Bracket, or 9th overall going in, and we felt like we could have been seeded higher, and put somewhere in the Gold Bracket. But we also felt like we hadn't come up with a key win since early in the season when we beat Conn and Trinity, and maybe this was a chance to prove ourselves? If not prove ourselves to "others," it provided an opportunity for us to gain some confidence, and prove to ourselves what kind of team we can be. We've played a very tough schedule, and have lost some very close matches, and really haven't had many easy wins, so we also felt like this could work out OK if we were able to get our game really clicking and have good success against all of these other teams. We wanted to put everything together this weekend to help prepare us for our last week where we'll face four Conference foes in the last four days of the regular season. I think we accomplished our goal of being sharp, and putting together consistent play throughout the weekend.

Whitney rejoined us in practice on Thursday night for the first time in several weeks, so that was fun!! She looked great, and you'd never know that she'd been out for that long--she didn't miss a beat! Team now totally intact, we headed down to Mt. Holyoke to win our Bracket, starting with Mt. Holyoke on Friday night! As the #1 seed, we guessed that Mt. Holyoke might not give us a great game, but I'm not sure we expected to wipe the slate clean without letting anyone even score in the high teens against us?! Everyone on our team played, and contributed in almost every match! That was FUN!! We looked sharp, and it was a great time in the season for EVERYONE to contribute. Going into the final stretch, it's important to know that everyone is ready to go, and we confirmed that this weekend!

To top it all off, Lindsay Patterson was named Silver Bracket MVP! Lindsay had a great weekend, both offensively and defensively! Not only that, she is the backbone of our team in so many ways, it was really nice to see her get publicly recognized for her efforts! Congrats Lindsay!

On another note, we had a few fun surprise visits down there! Well, one of them was a fun surprise for me, but not to Kate! The team went to the locker room when we arrived Friday night, and I walked into the gym, and sitting there alone in the gym as the basketball team finished sprints were Mr. and Mrs. and Amy Heath! Kate's parents, along with big sis Amy were there for the weekend to watch Kate for the last time in her college career. Amy is headed off to Germany for three months, and her parents won't be able to make it to any of our remaining games, so that was certainly a fun weekend for them to see. Also, we had a brief visit from Lauren's mom (of course--she watches more volleyball between all her girls then even me, I think?!); Elissa's parents (who may be our best fans?!); Ellen's parents were there for Saturday's games, and we had a surprise visit from Ellen Dickson ('08) who happened to be getting fit for her wedding gown literally across the street from the Athletic Complex. She apparently saw the bus pull in with VT plates, and ordered her mom to pull in behind it! Shrieks of joy were let out upon seeing them, and that was a fun start to our Saturday! Congrats to Ellen, who is due to be married to her long-time sweetheart Andy later this Fall!!

We didn't get home all that late, even though it was absolutely POURING RAIN. AND, we got our Pad Thai after all! What a treat. Only 5 of us ended up getting it, but others got the Mexican they were craving, and we even had some great "treats" from Kate's mom, and Ellen's mom: the HUGE cookie cake from Ellen, and Mrs. Heath's signature chocolate covered pretzels among some other goodies! (At least I think they're from the mom's. You never know--it was Ellen Dickson's DAD who used to bake all the goodies then!)

Needless to say, I think we boosted our confidence this weekend, and we should actually feel rested and ready to put it all out there for our last few matches! It should be a very exciting race to the finish line, as Williams, Bowdoin and MIDD are all searching for a higher seed in the tournament, and Bates and Colby are looking to try to scrape their way into the Tournament. That all adds up to some fierce competition, and some great matches! It doesn't get much better than this. As I've written before, our destiny is entirely in our own hands, which is exactly where we want it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flip-Flops & Athletes: A Bad Combination

Well, I have actual, printed substantiation to back up the decision that Rachel (our Trainer) and I came up with last year when we made a new team rule banning flip-flops. This is an article from Training &Conditioning from October 2008.

"Flip-Flops & Athletes: A Bad Combination"

It's not hard to imagine why flip-flops can be bad for your feet, since they offer very little cushioning and virtually no arch support. But now, research from Auburn University's Department of Kinesiology provides specific data about how flip-flops can affect athletes who wear them.

"There's plenty of anecdotal information out there that says flip-flops can cause problems," says graduate student Justin Shroyer, MA, CSCS, who co-wrote Auburn's flip-flop study with Professor Wendi Weimar, PhD. "We wanted to look at them scientifically to see what effects they have."

In the study, researchers analyzed the way 39 college-age men and women walked while wearing flip-flops, then compared it to the way they walked in athletic shoes. With flip-flops, subjects took shorter strides, hit the ground with less vertical force, and increased the "attack angle" of their ankles during the leg's swing phase. When participants switched to sneakers, some of the gait changes remained, causing discomfort.

The study raises questions that Shroyer and Weimar would like to answer with further research: How do muscle recruitment patterns differ when wearing flip-flops versus athletic shoes? Does the shortened stride put athletes at risk for injury? How much energy do foot muscles have to use to grip the flip-flop? Does the flip-flop step cause muscles to work harder?

Shroyer stops short of drawing too many conclusions from the initial study, and hasn't yet tossed his own flip-flops. But he does caution athletes against wearing them all day long. "Flip-flops were made for the beach, the pool, and the shower, and that's where they should be worn," he says. "There are some great things about flip-flops: They're easy to take off and put on, and they help keep feet cool. But they're not the best choice for everyday footwear.

"If athletic trainers are trying to provide an optimal environment for their athletes, they'll want to eliminate anything counterproductive," adds Shroyer. "If athletes want to keep wearing flip-flops, they should look for ones with more arch support and a thicker cushion. And they should replace them every three or four months. If they have to break out the duct tape, they've gone way too far."

Thank you, Rachel, for giving me this article. This helps spell out why we've done away with wearing flip-flops during our season!! It made complete sense to me when Rachel and I talked about it last year, but this just gives us more printed support. Right now, it's too cold to wear them anyway, or should be, so this team rule helps confine the flip-flop wearing of the team to the times when they were designed for: summer months at the beach!

Panthers Blank Plymouth State

It was the Panthers of MIDD vs. the Panthers of Plymouth State in our last home game in the Bubble....ever! It's been a great facility for us, actually, and I think we gave it a decent farewell, even though we'll continue to practice in there. We started off very strong, which was nice to see as we haven't always done that this year. We served them tough, and got some great hits from the OH early on. Even though we served well, we also gave up an early string of points to them to neutralize the lead we had just built. After exchanging points, we then took control of the tempo again, and started to put them away. We knew that their offense was mostly run through the middle, and they couldn't get their passes up early to be able to run middle, and we capitalized on that. We were dictating the tempo for the most part, which is what we wanted to do.

Their defense stabilized a bit in the second game, and we made some unforced errors, in addition to not taking care of junk balls that they gave us, and thus we weren't able to keep the pressure on them like we wanted. This allowed them to run the middle more, which gave us some trouble at first. Eventually, we started to block that hit, and also dig it more successfully, and thus ran off with the last game fairly easily. The good news for us in the 2nd game was that we came from behind to win that game. We were down 19-22, and came back to tie it at 23, and won it 25-23. We looked calm, and confident which is exactly how we need to be at this point in the season.

We're off to the Hall of Fame Tournament this weekend, and then our last four matches of the season are all Conference Matches!! Senior Night we'll be back in Pepin--Hooray!! We're very excited, as our destiny is completely in our own hands! That's certainly the position you want to be in at this stage!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MIDD Splits NESCAC Weekend at Amherst

We entered Amherst feeling ready to pull an upset, but didn't quite bring our game to go with our talk, unfortunately. We had trouble passing, and then couldn't get anything going offensively until the 3rd game, and at that point it was too little too late. It was a night that saw all three of our power outside hitters hit for negative percentages, and the middles were only slightly better. Elissa Goeke and Kate Heath provided the only real bright spots on the night as Elissa had 6 blocks, and Kate was the only hitter on the team without a hitting error on the night. We ran Lauren all over the court in an effort to run our offense, and we ran Natalie all over the backcourt trying to dig balls that we we couldn't get a hand on at the net. Well, I guess those things happen sometimes. To give Amherst credit, they were on their game, and were forcing the action all night.

Fortunately, we came out ready to play the next afternoon. After a feast compliments of Lauren's parents (AGAIN!--Thank you!!), we slept in and then had a leisurely morning around Amherst before meeting back at the gym at noon to prepare for Hamilton. The team had a meeting with the captains beforhand, and got everyone in the right mind-set, and we overpowered a much weaker Hamilton team. The good news for us was that everyone played, and with every sub, the level of our game improved, which was great to see. We started to click, and even though it's much easier against a weaker team, it's also easy to get lulled into not being sharp, and I think we improved our sharpness as the match went on.

We have two more dual matches, and two more weekends before the Conference Tournament, and half of those remaining matches are Conference ones, so it'll be a fun race to the finish this year as the Conference is once again all mixed up. There is so much parity, it'll likely all come down to that final weekend of Conference play. We're looking forward to our practices to continue to work on what we've identified will help us be successful down the stretch here, and can't wait to get those uniforms back on again to put it to the test.

Monday, October 13, 2008

MIDD Falls to NESCAC Leader Tufts in 4 Sets

Oct Break is on, and campus had thinned out as Tufts traveled to MIDD for the Conference match on Sunday. Tufts was coming off a 3 set sweep of Amherst on Saturday night, and we felt ready for whatever game they brought on Sunday. We may have been too amped up for the match, as we were tight to start off with and amidst serving out several times, we also were over-passing and making unforced errors. We settled in nicely in the 2nd set to take that one 25-20, and we started to play OUR game. However, we once again dug ourselves a hole in the 3rd, but were making a great comeback sitting on set point, but came up a point shy of tying it at 24 to lose 23-25. The momentum had definitely shifted in our favor, and we had made a couple of strategic adjustments that we felt were helping, and had gained an 18-14 edge at one point in the 4th set. That lead would slip away, and see us only score 3 more points down the stretch to lose that deciding set 21-25.

We are doing a lot of great things, but we need to string them together into a whole match. There will always be errors, and mistakes, but we're trying to focus on how we react to those errors, and getting in positions where we are able to stop runs by the other team a little sooner, so that they maybe only get 2-3 points at a time, not 4-5. They are a good team, but we feel like if we can improve on a couple of key areas, and keep plugging away at our strengths, then we should be where we want to be heading into the last half of our Conference play. We will also welcome Reisa back to the team when we start practice again on Tuesday after being away to deal with a family matter, and will hopefully get Whitney back in practice gear the following week. That will put us at full strength again for both practice and matches, which will be nice for all of us.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Colby-Sawyer Out-Nudges Panthers in 5 Sets

We got off to a very slow start over in New London, NH. The fact that half of my van wasn't even sure if we were headed to NY, or NH , or maybe even CT may have contributed to that slow start?! It was a fairly messy game to start out with, both ways, but they had the advantage blocking us for sure. We started to settle down a little in the 2nd set, but still were somewhat out of sorts. We put Caroline in for Jane, and that gave us a lift, but we still weren't quite clicking. Kate had been doing a nice job blocking and hitting, but we wanted to get Jane back in the game, so we put her at Right Side, and left Caroline to contend with the big block that had somewhat stymied us early on. Caroline started to get it all figured out and tipped that big block a few times, ripped a couple line, and hard cross, and also found the seam between the blockers and really started to get us going.

After narrowly capturing the 3rd set to prolong the match, we handily beat them in the 4th, setting up the 5th and deciding set. They came out stronger than we did, and we couldn't quite set the block such that our defense was solid behind it, and the game winner ended up being a hit from the middle that had hurt us all night. That being said, we had dug ourselves a hole and had gotten behind by about 4 points before Caroline put three balls down in a row to get us right back in the match! All in all, it was a good match for the last three sets, but getting off to that slow start really hurt us in the long run. Colby-Sawyer is a good team, but no better than what we have left to face in our own Conference, starting with Tufts on Sunday! We're hoping to keep learning from each match, and each day in practice so that we keep progressing day by day to be peaking at the end of the season. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

MIDD Overpowers Norwich

It was a gorgeous fall day when we headed over the mountains to play Norwich University. That was a good thing, too. If you've ever tried to get to Norwich from Middlebury, you'd know that the quickest way to go is straight. Straight over two mountain gaps, that is. We coaxed our big college van to get up and over those gaps, and we all survived the trip--all of us in that one big van! Those looking out and awake on the way over got treated to some of Vermont's finest views, which was fun.

As for the volleyball, we dominated the first and third games with everyone seeing action! The second game, however, was a different story. After defeating them easily in the first game, I think we got lulled into thinking they couldn't play, and when they did it's like we weren't sure what to do. Anyway, we fell behind and stayed behind for most of that game. At 16-20 we called our final timeout, and simply said to stop worrying about being behind. Relax, breathe and just play your game one point at a time. This apparently worked as we ran off a few points and then tied the game at 23-23. After trading points back and forth, we finally pulled out the game 29-27, and then cruised to an easy victory in the 3rd.

A real highlight for the team was Caroline's 15 kills with no errors on only 21 swings in only two games. That was fun to watch! Other highlights were: Mallory and Natalie had good serving runs, Molly hit 100% in the 3rd game, and Ellen came in at the end of the match to tally 3 assists in the last 5 points of the match. It was a great team effort and we showed some tough grit to come back in that 2nd game after playing so poorly the first 2/3rds of that game.

We have a big weekend coming up with an away match against Colby-Sawyer on Friday night, and then hosting Tufts in a Conference match on Sunday. We're ready for the challenge, and will have mid-terms behind us by then, which will be nice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dig Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness!

DIG PINK is a National Breast Cancer awareness initiative that Volleyball teams across the country are participating in during the month of October. Skidmore College was kicking off the month by raising money for the Digs their team tallied during our match with them on October 1. We brought pink balloons to tie on each end of the benches. Lexie Fisher presented them to the Head Coach from Skidmore before the match. We also donated $1 for each of our team digs in the match. We ended up tallying a whopping 93 digs in our 5 set match, and the captains presented the Skidmore Head Coach with the money after our match. Way to go MIDD and Skidmore for contributing to this very worthy cause!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

MIDD Drops Tough 5-Set Match to Skidmore

It was a rainy Wednesday when we ventured over to NY to face a Skidmore team that was very similar to last year. Their offense was dominated by their outside hitters, and I felt like we should match up well defensively. I think we outmatched them in the Middle, but didn't really take full advantage of that. That being said, however, Whitney Bean did set a new school record for the most number of Block Assists in a single match with 9! Congrats Whit!

We started off a little slowly, dropping the first game, and almost took the 2nd, but lost on what I still think was the wrong call (and I really don't say that very often!) It was a tough way to lose at 25-27. Anyway, we found ourselves down 0-2, but feeling like we could totally play with this team.

Our heart and soul came through in the 3rd game with our backs against the wall, facing possible elimination in three straight, we fought them off to narrowly win that game 27-25. We then dominated the 4th as we continued to keep pressing, and they had a little mental lapse that saw one of their main hitters tank a little, and their serve receive struggled also. We'd like to think it was all our pressure, but to be fair, I think it was a combination of both.

The 5th game being only to 15, we knew it was important to get out to a good start. It was tied at 3-3, and then they rallied off a few points, and then we pretty much stayed behind by 2-3 pts. until we finally lost 11-15. It was certainly not what we had in mind, but looking at the positive side of things: they are a very good team, and we had the opportunity to fold in the 3rd game and didn't, which was a great thing. We're now 1-3 in 5 game matches, and we'd love to have that reversed, but I think we've learned a lot from all of those matches.

We had the weekend off now (our only one this season), and some crazy scores have been posting from around the league, so there is still a lot of exciting volleyball left to be played this year!! It was great that our weekend off fell on Parents Weekend. We had quite a few people watching practice on Friday between recruits and parents--it was almost like a match. This time, there was more at stake than just winning, however. Since we all had the weekend off, the winners of the scrimmage match won a home-baked apple pie from Coach, so the competition was fierce! :)