We had a somewhat interesting week of practice leading up to the NESCAC Tournament since we only had all 14 players one day, and that was Monday for our pool practice and film session. Despite that, however, we all got on the bus healthy and ready to go! We were focused on what we wanted to do, and that was stay at Tufts and play as long as possible. We liked our first round match-up against Amherst. We had split with them during the year, but felt confident going in that we could win.
We got off to a bit of a slow start in game one, but came on late to make that first game at least competitive. We then took control in the next two games and really looked pretty sharp. Our serve receive was better, and our defense was solid, allowing all hitters to get involved in game two where we had 18 kills and only 3 errors as a team. Game three ended up being dominated by our three top hitters in Jane, Caroline and Julia combining for 11 kills and 3 errors on 23 attempts.
Game four saw us get our middles both involved again, but unfortunately, we started to get blocked some on both sides, and we combined for a total of 11 hitting errors. I think we led by a couple of points for quite a bit, but then we traded points until Amherst tied it at 21.
Unfortunately, they scored the last four points to win that 4th game and force a deciding 5th game.
After having a possible record-high missed serves for a match, we actually didn't have many, if any in the 5th. It would prove to be a game of short streaks, that didn't end with ours, unfortunately. We got up early by a few points, maybe 4-1, and then they came back to within a point. We then held the lead at 8-5 when we switched sides, and then they came back to go up 10-9. We then got our lead to 13-11 before the house came crumbling down. We just couldn't seem to come up with a good clean pass to run our full offense, and they camped on our outsides a bit. We kept the ball in play, but couldn't seem to get that good, clean, powerful hit that we'd been so successful with earlier. Our season ended when, after a long rally that neither side was able to put away, their bigger outside hitter hit off our block and out of play for match point.
All in all, we did have some fabulous efforts, despite the heartbreaking nature of the loss. Jane had to sit out of practice on Thursday, and bounced right back to have an amazing match. She had a match high 23 kills, 15 digs, 2 solo blocks (VERY nice!), 2 assist blocks, and two service aces. Other highlights in the stats column were Caroline's digs at 27, Natalie's 18 digs, Lauren's 56 assists, and 12 digs, and Elissa's three blocks and a service ace.
One of the highlights that won't show up anywhere unless you were there to watch was the play of senior Mallory White. Mallory didn't play a lot this year, but every chance she got, she came in and passed everything right to the target, and was poised and solid. Friday night was no exception. Mallory was composed, and came in and gave us a lift in the 2nd game that turned things around for us. We then used her to serve and play through the back row for the rest of the match, and it gave us a different look for serve receive that really gave us a boost, not to mention some of her great defensive plays. Amherst had been serving Natalie a lot, and giving her a rest in the back row forced them to find someone else to serve to; although, Natalie's defense was stellar all night!
On the serving note, we couldn't seem to find a good rhythm serving tonight. We've been a pretty good serving team all season, but for some reason we didn't seem to have the groove Friday night. We did manage 9 service aces, but we also had a lot of errors, and couldn't seem to hit our spots that often. I looked at Brian, who calls the serves, and I finally had to ask, "who are you asking them to serve to?!" He calmly replied, "Not where they're serving." To Amherst's credit, I think they outplayed us down the stretch, and that's more a credit to them than a knock on us.
I can't quite describe the horrible pit left in my stomach after a match like that, and I've only experienced a loss like that maybe one other time in my coaching career. Afterward, when the team was stretching and talking with parents and what not, I heard Jane's aunt telling some of the girls to keep their heads held high, and to remember that this one match doesn't define us as a team. She said we had a great season, and we should all be proud of that! That is the truth, as hard as it was to focus on that in that moment, that is the truth. We did have a great season, and we had a lot of fun, and quite a lot of us will be back again next year. Each team takes on a slightly different personality, and we'll certainly miss our four seniors, and that's part of what makes it so hard at the time. It seemed that this was the time, this was the team. Now, we'll have to bring that passion and determination into next year's season!
After the match, my cell phone rang, and it was Reisa calling from CA. I didn't really want to pick it up and tell her her career was over. She'd already had her own heartbreaking decision when she went to interview for a job with the GAP Company on Thursday and Friday in San Fransisco. She's our only Feb, and that means that in a couple of months, she'll be out in the "real world" looking for a job. She'd been through several interviews, and this was the final, personal inteview, and she needed to be there, and we all knew that, even if she wasn't sure about it. If she gets the job, I think we'll all take some pride in that! :) She took the red-eye that night, and joined us at the hotel for breakfast and the bus-ride home.
And, Whit, after missing both Wed. and Thursday with the flu and fever, came back and played her heart out, as did the rest of the team. Julia and Caitlin did everything we'd asked them to do, and everyone on the bench helped us stay motivated and stick to our game plan, and keep the huddles calm, positive and controlled, which was great.
Now, it's only Sunday, so the reality of not having practice any more hasn't quite set in yet, but I imagine in the next couple of days, it'll start to feel real, and I'll have to move on, as always. I watched the NESCAC Championship as Williams defeated Tufts in three straight after a thrilling, and somewhat stressful (even watching on the computer), back and forth 3rd game. I will miss seeing everyone in practice, but we'll plan some community service projects, and some fun get-togethers, and that will be something else to look forward to. I also look forward to seeing team members take part in some of their other activities, like Elissa playing basketball, or Natalie trying out for Riddim, or Mallory singing with the Mischords. Who knows, I may even try to run part of the TAM with Molly, and a few others. I'll try to keep posting our events and get-togethers here on the Blog, but not quite as often as during the season. Thank you to all of our super-supportive parents and other fans. THANK YOU!! The positive support really means a lot to all of us.