Wednesday, December 8, 2010

End of Season Banquet at Waybury Inn

We changed our venue this year for our end of season banquet. Instead of Fire and Ice, or Brian's picturesque Vermont house, we decided to go to the nearby Waybury Inn. We had our own private dining room, and we ate in style. Thanks to our parents generous donations of food this year, we were able to actually pay for the banquet from our budget, so that was a nice switch! Both Rachel and Steve were able to join us, too, which was great. We were missing Brian, which was too bad. However, since he was at Disney World with his kids, we didn't feel all that bad for him though. :)
It was great to reconnect as a whole team, and to celebrate just being together again. Our reason for the banquet, however, is to honor each member of the team for their contributions to the team, and for being such great ambassadors to Middlebury College. Thus, everyone received the Middlebury "M" and a Certificate of Participation from the Middlebury College Department of Athletics (in addition to one PE credit toward graduation!) It's the old fashioned type of letter that can be sewn on a jacket or a sweater, as it was in the "old days." I believe that this letter has been handed out to Midd Athletes forever, which is a fun tradition.
The TEAM Awards that were voted on by the team this year were the "Tough as Nails" award, the "Glue" award, the "Spirit" award, and the "Most Improved". And, here are the results:

The "Tough as Nails" award went to both Lauren and Caitlin, and recognized them for being tough throughout the season, in practice and in games, and just in general! (Maybe it's in the genes?)

The "Glue" award went to Julia, who helped bring the team together, and kept the team together in many ways!
The "Spirit" award went to Elissa, who's energy and enthusiasm were contagious!
The "Most Improved" went to both Maddie and Stud, for really working hard to improve their respective games in the off-season, and also from the beginning of the season to the end!

It's also a time to recognize our captains and the important job that they do during the season, and also to thank our seniors for all they've given the Program over their years here.
As for the captains, they did a fantastic job this year. They were a good pair, and their different leadership styles worked well together. Lauren was our floor general. She ran the offense, and kept everyone involved, and really distributed the ball well. She lead by example, and although she can certainly speak up when need be, she was rarely long on words. Jane was more of our sentimental and emotional leader both through her actions, and her words and enthusiasm. The work they do all season long, and also during the off-season is a main reason for our success.
For the seniors, I was delinquent in ordering their traditional navy blue fleece blankets embroidered with Middlebury and their # on it, so I had nothing to give them but my sincere thanks. The two seniors have given so much of themselves to this team over the years. I think beating Williams for the first time in their careers, (and TWICE) had to be a great moment for those two seniors. However, winning the NESCAC Tournament had to clearly be the career highlight.

I would describe Whit as an "old soul" because in my mind she had a mature nature about her since the day she arrived in MIDD. When out for any reason, she would just go about her business, and get back out there as soon as possible without any drama--EVER. That presence of mind and spirit was a calming force for us, and had a very large impact on the team morale and focus. I think Whit was a wonderful mentor and role model, and we'll all miss her very much.

Despite Lauren's outward quietness at first, there was never a doubt about her control on the court. Lauren's ability as a setter, and her competitive, nerves of steel nature made her an instant leader on the team. Being named a junior captain really demonstrated the impact she had on the team, and the team rallied around her to reach greater heights each year. She broke most of the setting records for both a single season, and for a career, which is impressive. I think it's Lauren's unique and dynamic personality, her wit, and her dry sense of humor that I'll miss the most.

Getting to know people like Lauren and Whitney, not just as volleyball players, but as people is the true perk of my job. The changes that players go through from a recruit, to a rookie, to an upperclassman, to a senior, and then on to an alum are just really fun to witness, and share. I will miss these two seniors both as players and as people, but I'll always look forward to their return to campus, or seeing them in the stands on the road, or getting an email about a new job, a wedding, or a baby!
NICE JOB, everyone! Fun times! Thank you for all the great memories!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Several Honored in Post-Season

Well, what a season. We had the 2nd most wins in school history, our first NCAA win, and 3rd NESCAC Championship, but first in over 10 years. In the process, several players were honored with individual recognition. I like to add here that the team is only as strong as it's weakest link, and these honors prove just how deep we were. Let's see, where to start:

Lauren and Whitney were honored as two of the top seniors in New England by being named to the New England Senior All-Stars.

Lauren was the MVP at the Hall of Fame Tournament during the season, as well as being named NESCAC Player of the week that same week. She was also 1st Team All-NESCAC, NEWVA 1st Team All-New England, AVCA All-Region, and an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American.

Jane, who was named the NESCAC player of the week 3 times this year, was also the NESCAC Player of the Year, 1st Team All-NESCAC, NEWVA 1st Team All-New England, AVCA All-Region, and a 3rd consecutive year as an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American.

Julia Gibbs earned a spot on the 2nd Team All-NESCAC, AVCA All-Region, and an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American.

Megan Jarchow was our 3rd NESCAC Rookie of the Year in a row, in addition to being named to the NEWVA All-Rookie Team, and NEWVA Honorable Mention All-New England. She was also the NESCAC Player of the Week in the final week of the Conference season.

Caitlin Barrett was the first player from Middlebury ever named to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament team, and was also an NEWVA Honorable Mention All-New England member.
Due to the fantastic team success this season, the coaching staff was also honored by being named the NESCAC and NEWVA Coaching Staff of the Year.

We will be having our banquet before we leave for Christmas Break, and will report on those team awards when we have them. All three juniors will all be going abroad this Spring, and we'll try to keep up with their adventures abroad too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Season Ends in NCAA Regional Semi-Finals

Well, I guess it had to end sometime. What a fun season it was, though. The format for the NCAA Regional was a little strange, but as the #3 seed, we had the first time slot, which was the 12:30 match on Friday. Because of that, we came down to our hotel on Thursday night after practice, which is always kind of fun. (It makes us feel a bit like professional athletes.) The NCAA assigned us a hotel, which was one of the nicest we'd stayed in all year, so that was fun, too. It even had a Dunkin Donuts within walking distance.

In our opening game of the NCAA's on Friday afternoon, we played NYU-Polytechnic. They had some athletes, but were not nearly as deep as we were, and we basically controlled the tempo from start to finish. MJ, Julia and Elissa were our main offensive weapons with 9, 8, and 6 kills respectively. Amy Hart came off the bench in game three to have 4 kills, no errors on 7 swings for another one of her super-efficient hitting games! Caitlin had a match high 15 digs, and Lauren kept her 10 Assists per game up with exactly 30 Assists, while Stud played some great back-row defense. Meg played some right side, Maddie had a solid couple of games splitting time with the other middles who each played two games. Caroline made her debut back on the court for the first time in over 3 weeks, and Charlotte H. finished out the match behind the serving line. NY Poly was pretty big upfront, however, and blocked us pretty well, even though our coverage was fairly decent. For such a lopsided game, we thought (foreshadowing...) that the big block would be good preparation as we advanced.

Since we played so early, we had a leisurely lunch (outside in the warm sunshine, believe it or not!) where we once again enjoyed some of Lauren's mom's special sandwiches. We then went back into the gym to watch UMass Boston beat Maine Maritime as badly as we'd beaten NY Poly. It was such a lopsided game, that it didn't last long, but at least we got a look first-hand at what UMass Boston was doing, which was nice.

Our parent contingent was excellent once again! They had the M shirts from NESCAC's, signs, and cheers. It was great. They took us out for dinner (again), which was oh-so-generous as we ate above our budget (again!) and certainly got our fill at Bertucci's. THANK YOU!! Since we ate late, MJ's mom had her phone out at the table getting live stats for the Tufts vs. Springfield match going on at the same time. Springfield wins game two....and a sweep of Tufts in three straight! Amherst would now play Springfield in the other Semi-Final. After dinner, Lauren and I went shopping for breakfast and lunch items for the next day, and then we all got to sleep in the next morning since we didn't play until 3:30pm.
I will note here that the NCAA has some rather odd peculiarities in general, but especially before the match starts. Not only are you not allowed to drink Emergen-C, or eat clementines and orange juice, but you are not allowed to be on the court, or touch a ball until exactly 60 minutes before the match starts. OK, fine. Then, right before the match starts, they take both teams and all the officials and go off the court in separate corners. Once the "dramatic music" starts, the officials lead each team out of their respective corners and march them to their end lines for the lineups and anthem. When the theme song for "Indiana Jones" came on Friday afternoon, I actually started to laugh out loud (almost). I think it was Julia who commented that we're merely pawns in the bureaucracy of the NCAA. It was pretty funny. The schedule of the matches allowed us plenty of time to hang out at the gym to watch matches, or to do work around the hotel (or paint nails, or both.)
Anyway, Saturday afternoon at 3:30 we played UMass Boston in the first Semi-final. We came out ready to go and took a close first set 25-20 behind our largest kills total--19 (and by far best hitting %--.471%) game of the match. We served them pretty well, and got them out of system, and we were able to use our middles early and opened up other options nicely. It was a very tight game back and forth until we finished out the set on an 8-3 run for the first set win. Whit had 4 kills on 5 swings, MJ had 6 kills on 9 swings, and Jane had 5 kills on 8 swings in the first game, which is great.

The second set, however, was a bit like the body-snatchers. We just didn't look like ourselves, or at least not the selves that we had looked like for quite a while now. We got down early and had a look of doubt on our faces like we weren't sure what was going on. We weren't passing well, we were getting blocked badly, and got down early from the first server on, and trailed the whole game. Julia was the only hitter without a hitting error in that game that saw us hit .135%, and Jane was the only one with more than 2 kills as she racked up 5 again in the 2nd.

The third set was a tiny bit better, but not a lot. It was another tight set like the first one to about 11-11, but when they went on a four point run at 15-11, they never looked back. They were forcing the action, and running the middle, and we were the ones on the defensive, and still hitting into the block. Caitlin came up with some big digs from their power hitter, but they had several balls go straight to the floor where we weren't. Perhaps the swing blocking made us "feel" like we had space to swing which then was not there, or we just didn't adjust to using other options well enough, but they blocked us very well. It was also a factor that we weren't pressing the action enough to force them out of what they wanted to do often enough. I felt like whomever was in system more was better able to control the action, and that was them in this match. #8 for them hit heavy balls from the back row too, and scored a few times on those plays even when we did our job of forcing them out of system and making them set back row. That all lead to us trailing most of the 3rd set as well, and not really challenging to take that set.

The fourth set opened up well, as our fight came out. We took an early lead, only to see it get swallowed up, before basically trading points for the last half of the set. It was an extremely tight last set as we were fighting to extend the match, and they were fighting for the win. I really felt like if we could just force a 5th set, then the match was anyone's game again. We still weren't clicking all that well, but I just felt like if we could pull out that game, we'd get back on track somehow. Well, we almost did...but not quite. We were down two match points, and came back to tie it, only to get down match point a few more times. I think we had set point only once in the extra points segment, but couldn't capitalize on it. We successfully saved several match points, until #8 ended our season with a stuff block on the outside. She was clearly the player of the match with a match-high 22 kills. She is the New England Region Player of the Year, and her coach commented after the match that she's never seen her play any better. She had 27 points for the match, seconded by Julia's 17.

If you look at the stat line totals, it was a very, very even match in every category except one: blocks. They blocked us 11.5 times to our 5.0 blocks. They ran a very quick middle attack when in system, and that forced us to stay and respect that, which may have opened up some opportunities outside. We just didn't face that quick of a middle attack all year, and I think we had trouble defending it effectively, both at the net, and in the back defensively. Also, #8 had a great match that proved a bit too much for us to handle. Caitlin by far had the match-high digs with 25, and we had three hitters with double digit kills: Julia (15), Jane (14), and Whit (11). MJ added 9 kills, and Elissa added 6. Lauren ended with a match-high 44 assists, and very good set distribution once again, trying to get everyone involved, and spreading out our offense, but still getting the most sets to our hot hand: Julia. She proved to be our best attacker on the day, hitting at almost .300%. Our receive struggled a bit due to thier tough serving, despite only having 5 receiving errors to their 3. I think it was off just enough to keep us from being as unpredictable as we wanted to be. The other thing that hurt was when we did pass well, we weren't consistently taking advantage of those opportunities offensively. All in all, that added up to a UMass victory. The fight we showed in the last set was great, and despite our many late-game comebacks this year, I guess we just didn't have one more left in the bag.

It was very sad to end the season, as always, but I really feel that this team had the talent to win at this level. There have been those years where we ended our season by losing the first round of the Conference Tournament to Williams and actually played really well, and felt pretty good about it! We didn't play awful this day, but we didn't play our best game either. I give UMass Boston a lot of credit, however, as they pressured us a lot, and really forced us out of our game. We did some very good things, however, and the team should be very proud of their efforts all season. We deserved to be here, as one of the best teams in the New England Region, and I think we showed that.

Truth be told, I don't shed tears that often when the season ends, but this was definitely one where I did. Some frustration at not playing how we wanted, and some sadness that it was actually over, I think. What a special group of young women. It was a fun ride, so thank you to everyone for making it a special season--one to remember for sure! I've had more emails from alums and others about their enjoyment in keeping track of our season this year, and that's been fun as well. I'll have a separate blog entry for all of our post-season honors as we had several players get some very nice honors this season, so there's still more to come....

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Well, what a weekend. That was FUN! The NESCAC Tournament has been the ending point of our season for many years now, and in a some ways, it's what we train for all season. We definitely enjoy each match for itself, but when goals are set, they usually involve doing well (or winning) the NESCAC Championship. We knew the tournament would be very tough this year, as always, but I think we all felt like we had as good of chance as anyone to win it, if we played well, and we did! Paul Anderson caught the winning moments on film, which is awesome, so here are a few great pics of the moment:

In Quarterfinals, we faced Trinity, who had beaten us earlier in the year at Amherst in five games. We were excited by the match-up because I think we wanted to prove that we could beat Trinity. I'd say everyone played pretty well in that match, but our lone rookie in the lineup had a particularly stellar game with 18 kills, 1 error on 25 swings! They couldn't seem to do anything to stop her. Julia and Jane also had good hitting nights, as they added 11 and 10 kills respectively with only 2 errors a piece. And after missing the first match-up with Trinity with an ankle sprain, Whit had 4 kills on 12 swings with no errors, while Lauren had 45 assists and Caitlin had 22 digs to lead the defense. After the match, we went to Whole Foods to get dinner-to-go so we could get back to the gym to watch the Bowdoin vs. Williams quarterfinal, whose winner we'd play on Saturday. We love Whole Foods, and hadn't had the chance to go there yet this year, so that was fun--we do love our food!

With the win, that meant that we got to spend the night and got another chance to play together. After a nice night in the hotel, we had a leisurely breakfast, hung out a bit at the hotel, went into town to grab a sandwich for lunch, and headed back to the gym to hang out some more until our 3:30 match that afternoon. We were excited to watch the Tufts vs. Amherst match at 1:00pm--never too much volleyball. Tufts had been "on" the night before as they beat Conn in 3, and by all accounts looked tough. Amherst came out a little tight it seemed, and never really got going, while Tufts just took command of the game and won in straight sets!

We knew Williams would be a tough opponent because we'd watched them upend Bowdoin fairly easily the night before behind some pretty tough play by their seniors, one of whom is the older sister of our very own Meg! This match was another true team match as different people stepped up at different times to help carry the team. Jane and Julia took control of the first game as they had 8 and 5 kills in the first set alone. The second set saw us have 15 kills with only 1 error combined as a team. In the 3rd set, Whit had 4 kills on 8 swings, with no errors, and Julia had 6 kills with only 1 error to propell us to victory.

I believe we were down 13-18 in that 3rd set before we started our slow, but steady comeback. Williams had seemed to take control of that third set and looked as though they might take it, when we slowly started our comeback. We called a timeout at 13-18, and then Whit had 3 kills pretty quickly to spark our comeback. What may have tipped the scale for good was a HUGE block on their big middle on her patented slide play that Elissa was all over, and sent it back to the floor quickly. That both sparked us, and seemed to put some doubt on the faces of the Williams team. MJ also got a late service ace to help seal the deal (and I believe that she aced Williams last time on match point?!) It took guts, poise, and confidence to come back and pull out that last set. We've shown that poise and determination several times over the course of this season, but it was great to be able to come from behind by that many points late in the game against a team like Williams! Caitlin came up huge with some incredible digs in places we never could have told her to be, and Elissa also had a couple of huge digs to go along with her great serving game.

We finally tracked down some rooms for another night (something big was going on in the area because the whole town was booked solid.) We ended up in Holyoke, but not before we had a wonderful sit-down dinner at Bertucci's with all the parents. What a TREAT! Great food, time to eat and relax, and also being able to share that experience with our "super-fans!" We had great parent and friend fans there, and Jane's mom actually made big M shirts for the parents to wear for spirit, in addition to many signs that someone made! (We found out on the bus ride home that Kelli actually used an exacto knife to make the M stencil for the shirts--she's a teacher for sure with creativity skills like that!)

Daylight savings happened on Saturday night, so we all felt like we should have been better rested than we actually felt on Sunday morning, but nevertheless, we were ready to go. We knew Tufts was going to be a different challenge than we'd faced in the Tournament to date because they were the most balanced team offensively. So, it was no surprise that we traded sets to start off the match. They were blocking well, and actually tipping a lot on us, which was a little surprising, but effective. We finally got a handle on that to a certain extent, but we also got in a rhythm finally where our hitters could see the spots open up more and found some places to put the ball down. Something happened to Jane's foot somewhere in the 4th game too, and she had to come out to get taped up, and Stud came off the bench and stepped in right away. She passed well out of serve receive, got some touches on blocks, and got a kill, which was GREAT. Once again, (we've said it all season), our depth has been a catalyst for us every day in practice, and in instances like this, it's just reinforcement of how important that is! Way to go, Stud!

I haven't seen Tufts stats, but they seemed to be hitting pretty well, from both the right and left sides, in addition to one of the middles, and I have to say that Caitlin came up with so many big, big digs and she saved many, many balls from going down, and gave our offense a chance to attack back when it seemed that the ball was going to go down. They'd have a big, powerful hit that would just pop back up to Lauren and then we'd be off again attacking ourselves. They attacked the right side of our defense a lot too, and Lauren and Julia both came up with 16 digs in the match. It was a very competitive, back and forth match, which made for an exciting Championship Match.

My hat's off to Tufts. It was a great match, and they looked like they might be forcing a 5th game when they were up late in the 4th. But, once again, we staged a poised, if not somewhat precarious comeback again to take the final set 26-24. Caitlin had 42 digs in the match, while MJ had 23 digs and 16 kills. Lauren ended with 49 assists, and 16 digs, while Jane had 15 kills, 3 blocks and 2 aces. Julia had 3 aces, 9 kills, 16 digs, and no reception errors on 35 attempts for a very balanced game.

WAY TO GO, MIDD!! NESCAC CHAMPS!! We heard congrats from all kinds of friends and alums--it was a great day for MIDD Volleyball as the team, parents, alums and friends all celebrated with us, both courtside, and from afar. Our AD said that the President was watching the webcast while he was out and about, and had attracted a small crowd to see what was going on as well, which was fun to hear! It was a good day in general to be a Panther as the men's soccer team also won the NESCAC's!! Yeah Midd! Now, we'll get some rest tomorrow and then get another chance to practice and prepare for what lies ahead--the NCAA's--new territory for us. Should be FUN!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

MIDD Finishes Regular Season with 2 Conference Wins

It was Halloween weekend, and again we found ourselves at Hamilton, for the 2nd year in a row. This time we were facing Hamilton and Williams, and we were fighting for a top seed for the upcoming Conference Tournament. On Friday night we faced an ever improving Hamilton squad, which we managed to put away in 3 sets behind some very solid play all around. Jane and Julia were our offensive leaders with 11 kills apiece, and only 3 errors between them. MJ also had 10 kills, and Stud had a great hitting night with 6 kills and only 1 error in just over 1 game!

Lauren's parents (OK, Caitlin's too), brought us those wonderful sandwiches again and some salad and other goodies so that we could stay there and eat dinner and watch the Williams vs. Amherst match at 8pm that night. If Williams beat Amherst, then we would be playing for the top seed the next day against Williams. They certainly made it exciting for us! My gut said that Williams just didn't have it that night after they lost the first two games, and were down quite a bit in the 3rd. But then again, it is NESCAC volleyball, and in typical NESCAC fashion, Williams went on a run, and came back in that 3rd game to win. Not only that, but they won the 4th too, to force a deciding 5th game. It was all well worth the free price of admission as it was back and forth the whole way, but Williams couldn't quite pull out the victory, and lost 16-18 in the 5th. We were all glued to the bleachers, and found ourselves in the unusual position of rooting for Williams!

The next morning, we got our chance to play Williams, and our shot at winning the 2nd seed outright. Jane and Julia were again our offensive leaders, along with MJ with 12, 12, and 13 kills respectively, while Elissa contributed 7 kills. We served very well in the match, recording a total of 14 aces, one of which was match point--yeah MJ! Elissa led the serving stats with 4 aces, but Lauren and MJ both added 3, and Jane and Caitlin each had one, which meant that each one of our servers had an ace in the match, which I don't think has happened all year? Jane led our defense with 24 digs, while Caitlin had 14.

It was a little lopsided, as only one set had both teams in the 20's. We won the first and third games by the scores of 25-15, and 25-17, and they won set two 25-18. In the final set, however, we came from behind to win 25-22. We were down 14-17 when I heard Brain remark, "come on now, let's get one here!" I think we may have pulled ahead on that server, and then exchanged points before having a little run at the end to pull ahead for the win. It was a very exciting win for us, as that was the first time our seniors had ever beaten Williams! (Truth be told, it was also Brian's first win over them, which I hadn't even realized since he's been here for 7 seasons now. Yikes!) Needless to say, it was fun!

After the match, Stud's mom had prepared us a fantastic meal to take with us so that we could hop on the bus and head home. Her parfaits, a marvelous fruit salad, and pasta salad, in addition to other various goodies! THANK YOU, PARENTS!! We've had unparalleled support this year from our parents, who have taken care of us on the road, and at home, which is so wonderful. They not only come and cheer us on, but they bring all kinds of food and goodies with them. Julia's mom brought Halloween goodies--yum, and the parfaits that Stud's mom is now famous for were gone long before lunch was even thought about! I'm noticing now, however, that the picture we took didn't have all of our parents that were there even in it. Meg's parents, Stud's parents, and Cordle's mom and sister were all there as well as those pictured. (Sorry we missed the whole group picture!)

As we left for home, there was talk about the Amherst vs. Hamilton match. If somehow Hamilton could manage to beat Amherst, we could still end up with the #1 seed. No offense to Hamilton, but we just didn't think that was possible this year. As we were headed west on I90, we get a text from a parent that had stayed behind that Hamilton had just won the first game and the bus erupted in cheers. It would be short-lived, as Amherst won the next three relatively quickly, but it was fun to think about--go Hamilton!

Now, we're preparing for the Tournament with one match at a time on our minds. We got paired up with Trinity in the #2 vs. #7 seed at 5pm next Friday, and we will be ready! The NESCAC Tournament should be as deep as it's ever been, and we are all excited about that challenge and the opportunity to keep playing! We will keep focused on playing our best volleyball, and see how far that takes us. We try to look at one match at a time all season, but especially at this point in the season, it's more true than ever. At this point, each match you win earns you the opportunity to play one more.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

MIDD Wins Hall of Fame Gold Bracket

We were excited to be in the Gold Bracket for the Hall of Fame this year, after having been the #1 seed for the Silver Bracket the last couple of years. The good thing about the Gold Bracket is that all 8 teams there were very good teams, so the competition in every game was going to be great, and we knew that, and we were excited about that challenge!

We started out Friday night matched up against MIT, who we haven't played in many years. They are an athletic team, with pretty good size, and a balanced attack, so we knew it would be a tough match-up for our first round. We started out very well, and jumped on them early. We served well, and got them out of system, and they made a lot of errors. As we expected, however, they bounced back in game two and it was very close, back and forth. Jane had the hot hand in game two and came up with some big kills and we won that game 25-23. After that, it was more back and forth, but we came up with a couple of key blocks, and defensive plays, and pulled away to take the match in 3 with a 25-19 win in the 3rd.

One of the best things about playing the early match, which this time was at 5pm, was that after we played, we could shower, watch some of the next match (we would play the winner of that match), and still have time to go out to a sit-down dinner! For all of our subway nights, and sandwich nights, it was really nice to actually go out to a restaurant and have a real dinner. After that, we went back to the hotel, and had time to hang out that night, and also sleep in the next morning with a match-time on Saturday of noon.

Tufts beat Brandeis in the match we watched some of, so we were to play Tufts the next day at noon. They were without their starting setter, but seemed to be running their full offense other than that, and we were prepared to play a tough match! We got off to a quick start and never looked back. MJ was playing all the way around without Caroline with us, and she did a fantastic job defensively. Julia had a great all-around match with 12 kills, NO errors, on only 24 swings! She also had 3 assists, 3 aces, and 6 digs to round out an excellent match. Jane, Maddie and Elissa all had good hitting nights with only one error a piece and 6, 6, and 5 kills respectively. Jane added 4 service aces and served a match-high 23 times, and also added 10 digs and a solo block to round out her well-balanced game. MJ added 7 kills to help pace the offense as well.

Both Stud, and Amy got in for part of a set each, and both did an excellent job of maintaining, and raising the level of our play right away. Stud came in and immediately made a very head's up play at the net, and played through the front row, and finished off the game serving for game point. Amy, who came in for MJ late in the 3rd set almost immediately got a kill as soon as she came in, and then also buried the match-winner in the deep cross-court angle to finish the match. She finished with two kills on two swings--now that's hitting efficiency!

We had a decent blocking game for us. We had 4 different people with a solo block, and a total of 6 block assists, with Lauren having three of those to go with her 32 assists, 3 aces, 2 kills, and 11 digs! Caitlin was very solid all match with a team-high 20 digs, and no receiving errors.

Due to the format, we then had a match off with time to actually eat lunch, and read, do work, or watch volleyball. We quickly went over to watch the end of the Amherst vs. Bowdoin match to see who we'd be playing at 4pm. Bowdoin, after upsetting the #6 seed Springfield in 5 sets the night before, was beating Amherst, and thus we ended up playing Bowdoin for the finals.

They were very "up" after two great wins, and we knew they'd be a tough match. We'd played them twice already this season, and won in 3, and 4, but both of us seemed to be playing very well right now, so it was shaping up to be a great match-up. We got off to another great start, and once again, never looked back. We dominated the game, which was very fun to see. We served well, we blocked and hit pretty well, and our defense was very solid. We forced them out of what they wanted to do offensively, and out of serve receive, and took control of the tempo of the game. We won the match with scores of 25-15, 25-15, and 25-20. They didn't go without a fight, and when they made a late run in the 3rd set, we held them off with some great team play. MJ, who struggled a bit hitting against Tufts, bounced right back with 12 kills to lead the offense (and also had 2 blocks), while Jane had 9 kills with only 1 error.

With our balanced attack all weekend, Lauren was awarded the Tournament MVP for leading the way. To our surprise, (and, I guess, it shouldn't have been a surprise for me, but I'd missed it somewhere along the way), by winning the Gold Bracket, we also won a NEW set of Mizuno jerseys!! How FUN. The team was beside themselves, and almost thought it was a joke, (albeit, a bad one if it was one!) So, that was a fun surprise! I think we all felt good about how we played as a team, and we made sure to recognize the fact that it was a TOTAL TEAM effort. Without the support, and hard work of everyone on the team, day in and day out, we wouldn't be adequately prepared for weekends like this. We played well, which was great to see. GO TEAM! We have a big weekend coming up next weekend with our final two Conference matches at Hamilton. We'll work hard this week to be ready for that. One day at a time!

MIDD Wins on Senior Night

It was nice to have a couple of days off from class on Monday and Tuesday, but we couldn't take time off from practice. Our last regular season home match, and Senior Night was Wed. night against the Panthers of Plymouth State University. We started off the night by introducing our two seniors, Lauren and Whit, both of whom own school records. Whit holds the single-match record for total blocks, and also is 4th on the all-time hitting % list at MIDD. Lauren already holds the records for total assists in both a career, and in a single season, with 4 matches left in the regular season. In addition, as you might imagine, she also holds the assists per game records, and currently is ranked among the top 3 in the Conference in assists per game.

It was nice to see Whit back in the lineup after some trouble with her ankle, but she ended up leaving after another tweak, so we're hoping that that heals up here very soon. Caroline wasn't with us due to her concussion, but we're hoping she's back soon as well.
We got off to a great start, and completely dominated the "other" Panthers in the opening set. We served well, and they were making unforced (and maybe some forced) errors all over the place. In the second set, Plymouth started to find their game, and challenged us to step up to that. Our serve receive was a little shaky, and we tried both MJ, and Meg back row to try to settle our recieve. They had a couple of outside attackers that started to put the ball down, and we didn't quite adjust to it quickly enough to pull out a very tight game 2, 24-26.

After that, the last two games were pretty close, back and forth, but we managed the last run, and pulled away late in both sets to win 25-22, and 25-19. MJ, and Julia led our offense with great hitting nights. MJ had 15 kills with only 2 errors on 27 swings for a .481 hitting %. Likewise, Julia had 14 kills with only 3 errors on 34 swings for a .324 hitting %. Jane also had double-digit kills with 10.

Caitlin led the defense on the floor with a 20 dig night, but both Maddie and Elissa had 3 solo blocks to help that defensive effort at the net. Julia had a very well-rounded game with 4 service aces and 6 digs to go with her stellar hitting, and Lauren ended the game with 40 assists.

It was a good challenge mid-week leading up to our weekend at the Hall of Fame Tournament where we're seeded #1 in the Gold Bracket and will play some of the best teams in New England, starting out with MIT on Friday night.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tough Weekend for Panthers

This was a big weekend for us, having to play all three CT schools. We figured they'd all be tough, but we knew that Conn. and Trinity had just battled out a back and forth 5 game match between themselves, and they'd both probably be the tougher competition. The weekend started out well with a convincing 3-0 win against Wesleyan. We played well, and felt good about what we were doing. We had arrived in time to watch some of the Amherst vs. Trinity match before our match, and it was nice to see what Trinity was doing live. We then got refocused on our upcoming match, and we did a nice job of coming out strong, and finishing strong against Wesleyan.

The next morning we faced a tough Conn College team, but despite being behind most of the first set, we pulled out an almost unlikely win in that set 25-23. They serve pretty tough, and our receive was struggling with that, so it wasn't pretty, but both sides were getting in their kills. The second set was much the same as the first, but we didn't get quite as far behind, but we still were trailing a fair amount. Again, we surged ahead toward the end to get a 2-0 lead by the slim margin of 25-23. We knew they weren't going anywhere, and #12 seemed to just hit harder, and try as we did, we couldn't seem to muster the string at the end to pull out the 3rd set, but we still lead 2-1.

We dropped the 4th just barely by two points again, and it was that type of match--back and forth all the way. Neither team getting much of a lead at any one time. The fifth was the same and was tied at 10-10 before a string of tough serving put us on the defensive a little too much. Four of the last five serves to us were either shanked, or rated a 1-pass, which means we had very few hitting options out of serve receive, and I think that hurt a little too much. We'd struggled with our receive all night, a little run by them at that point was tough to come back from, and they scored the last five points in a row to win the match.

After the hard-fought loss to Conn in 5, we had about 30 minutes to regroup and get ready to play Trinity, who had just watched a good bit of our match with Conn. We knew they would be scrappy and dig a ton, and we thought we were prepared for that. Our serve receive looked much better than it had in the Conn match, but it seemed to be "off-speed" balls that gave us some unexpected trouble. We knew their two outsides, and their right side were their main offensive weapons, but we didn't seem to shut any of them down much with our Block, and were left to dig from the back row. #7 hurt us hitting around the block deep, where we weren't, which was a little frustrating, but she's a good hitter. One of the middles was hitting off-speed to 1, where it should have been relatively easy to dig, but more went down than we'd have liked from that spot as well.

We were attacking Trinity, and they were digging pretty well, but when they'd give us either a back-row attack, or a free or off-speed ball, we just didn't seem to be moving our feet to pass it perfectly. Instead, we were passing it up to the middle of the court, or off the net so Lauren had to chase it, and it took our Middles a little out of the offense, and thus made our OH's more affected by a cheating block. Then they started to dig that much more, and block us some.

We knew their defense was pretty deep, and we struggled to really use different speed shots that well. We tried hitting all different angles, but mostly deep where their diggers were. I will say, however, that for losing the first two games after just coming off a tough 5 gamer with Conn, I think we did a nice job keeping our wits about us and winning the next two games to force another 5th game. We started out the game well, and even though we were down when we switched sides at 8, it was only 6-8. We tied the game and even went up 13-10, (I think), but lost a couple in a row before calling timeout at 13-12. We went up 14-13, but then they hit one deep over our block to zone 6, and tooled our block twice, and that was the match.

Of course, it was extremely tough to lose both of those matches in 5. I do believe, however, that we will learn from this, and be stronger for it. We've not had a lot of experience with super scrappy teams that just dig a ton, and have good hitters, and I think this will benefit us in the long run. We have actually shown a lot of poise in several matches so far this year in coming from behind to win individual sets, and that calmness under pressure is good to see. I think we have the calmness under pressure, but we may need the "sense of urgency" at times also?! Toward the end of Trinity, however, we didn't seem to be as sure of ourselves, as we have in the past, and we actually had a couple of miscommunications, which are uncharacteristic.

In my opinion, Trinity out-played us and deserved to win. It's the NESCAC, and that's the way it is. You have to be ready every match, and every point within the match. There will be tough breaks, and great shots on both sides, and you have to be playing your best to win against any one of the top NESCAC teams. Even though they had very good hitters, and they play very good defense, I don't think we took good enough care of the ball when they were just keeping it in play. We made some of the tough plays, and we made a lot of good plays, but didn't make the easy plays good enough to really maximize our offense. In addition, I don't think we have reached our full potential of our offensive talents yet, which is something that we'll be working on. I think we do certain things really well, for the most part, but we need to have a few more options. Our blocking is improving, but we still have some work to do there, and obviously, we will still be working on consistency with our serve receive.

We have some great matches coming up before we head into our last Conference Weekend, and then the Tournament. Senior night is Wed. against Plymouth State, and then we head to the Hall of Fame Tournament, where we'll play MIT on Friday night. There will be most of the top teams in New England there, and it will be another great opportunity to test our resolve and skills!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

MIDD Beats Skidmore in Straight Sets

The first set wasn't pretty but we ended up getting it together. Is that a recurring theme? I hope not. Anyway, we played the match with some very nice pink balls because it was a Dig Pink event. Skidmore had a great crowd, who were loud and it was a fun atmosphere, but we didn't really come out that strong. It was their home opener, which is hard to imagine at this point in the season, but the crowd was ready to cheer on their team.

We had trouble getting on their middle early, and she was both hitting around us, and also swiping off the block etc. They were setting fairly high to the outsides, so we felt like we had time to get out to close the block, but somehow didn't seem to be doing that great of a job with that to start with. After we fought back in the first match, we traded points at the end, and finally took one of our few leads of the game in extra points, and then won 28-26. I think we showed some poise to be behind almost the whole first game, and them come back to tie it up late, before going ahead for the win. And to that when we were really struggling to get anything going was good to see.

The second set started out much better, and we seemed to be coming into our own when Julia got hit right in the face with a pretty hard shot! A couple of points later, her nose started to bleed, and she had to come out to get that taken care of. Amy Hart played in the front, and did a great job. Meg has been playing right side in practice, but has been pretty sick lately, so we put Amy in there after not practicing there, and she did a great job. Courtney then came in the back and played very solid defense before Julia was ready to come back in the front row. Their crowd was fairly decent, but had made comments on various things about us, but as soon as Julia came back in the front row, Lauren set her first thing, and it went down for a kill. (That seemed to quiet the crowd a bit!) Also, I realized that Caitlin got a few big "oh's" from the crowd with a few digs that seemed they were going down for kills for Skidmore, but then came back up! I don't often notice the crowd, but I think because we were facing them, and they were pretty loud, it was more obvious?

Anyway, we seemed to have deflated their bubble a bit after pulling out the first set. They've been having a great season, and they'd beaten us in 5 the last two times we've played them, and once we got going with our game, they seemed to not know just what to do, and almost seemed to just get stuck in neutral. The second set was fairly close, however, it was us this time who had the lead quite a bit of the time, and then finished it out still with that 3-4 point lead.

The third set was mostly us. However, as we seemed to be cruising to finish out the match strongly, they had a last surge, and made a small run of their own in the last set to narrow our growing lead, but in the end, we surged ahead ourselves to take the final set 25-17.

All in all, it was a good win for us. I think they're a very solid team in the NY region, and even though we don't have many common opponents, it's a good win for us out of region. Now, we are preparing for another tough Conference Weekend at Amherst this Friday and Saturday as we will take on Wesleyan, Conn, and Trinity. All are dangerous teams, and the seedings for the tournament are all still on the line, so this should be a fun weekend! We are taking each game one game at a time, because we know "a team is only as good as they play, TODAY!" So, we'll see what "today" looks like this afternoon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Parent's Weekend Brings TWO Conference Wins!

Weekends like this, we say, "What a great day to be a Panther!" It was a gorgeous Fall Weekend to have it be Parent's Weekend here at Middlebury. Despite being inside for our matches, I think everyone still had a chance to get out Saturday morning, or later Saturday afternoon with their parents to enjoy the beautiful Fall colors! It was great because everyone but three players, I think, had at least one parent here.

On Friday night we were the only athletic action on campus, and we had a great crowd for the first of two big Conference Matches. Despite showing up a little late, Bowdoin put up a good fight. We cruised out to a big lead in the first game, and even though they staged a late run, we closed it out 25-19. The second game was closer, and more of a back and forth battle, but we won to go up 2-0. We knew they weren't going away--they had just come off recent matches where they staged two come from behind victories in 5 games (after losing the first two sets), so we knew they had some fight left in them. Behind some strong net play, balanced scoring, and some tough serving, they took set 3by a score of 21-25.

We almost looked like we might be rattled by that, as we finished out the game a little flat, but we came out at the start of the 4th set with a steely look that we were not to be denied. We dominated the 4th 25-15, and that was that. Jane and Elissa led our offense with 11, and 9 kills respectively. Julia and MJ both had 8 kills to go along with that, but struggled more with hitting %. The great thing about the balance of our team this year is that we often change up who has the hot hand, and have had consistently balanced scoring overall. Caitlin and Caroline again led our defensive effort with 31, and 20 digs, and Elissa had 6 blocks!

After the match, the parents had a scrumptious dinner planned for us in Lawson Lounge, which made it really convenient for us to all be together and celebrate all the parents being around, and our win, but also be able to easily get back in the gym to watch some of the Amherst vs. Tufts match. THANK YOU, parents! It's nice to have the luxury of watching the team you'll play the next day.

Saturday proved to be even better. We hosted Tufts (for the third year in a row, somehow!) Last year they came to play us at home ranked #1 in New England, and we knocked them off 3-1. This year, they came in ranked #2 in New England, and we did it again, 3-1. Amherst had beaten them the night before, and I wasn't sure if that would end up being a good thing, or a bad thing for us. Sometimes, when a team like that takes a loss, they come out with fire in their blood the next day. Well, after the first game, it didn't seem to matter what they did because we were the ones with fire in our blood.

The first game they took easily while we looked a bit like deer in headlights. Fortunately, we shook off that dazed look, and started to settle down and just play our game. We got right back in it by taking the next set decisively 25-18. The next two sets would prove to be tough battles. I think we showed a lot of poise coming down the stretch in both of those games, and stuck to our game plan, and just fought it out and won. We made plays when we needed to, and in both games had a late surge where we scored a couple points in a row on our serve in the 20's, instead of just trading points as we'd been doing with them, and that ended up being the difference as we won both games by scores of 25-22. We had a pretty balanced attack, as both Jane and MJ had double digit kills, and Julia had 9, and Elissa had 7. Elissa came through with a big serving night with 3 aces, and a timely run to put set 2 (I think?) out of reach for Tufts.

Defensively, we had a lot of total hustle plays. We may not have made it look easy by being in the "right" spot for a lot of digs. I think we actually made it look hard by scrambling and getting balls just barely up, but keeping them in play. Julia even demonstrated the "Pursuit Rule" by going out and around the post on the other side of the net to play the ball back toward our side, and then we got it over (which IS legal!) Caitlin and Jane both had 17 digs, but the big defensive night was for both Julia and Lauren, who had 17, and 22 digs respectively! Maddie led our blocking effort with 3 block assists.

As I told the team after the match, it was a total team effort! Whit was unable to play this weekend after spraining an ankle in practice on Wednesday. Maddie just stepped right in and we didn't miss a beat. Our practices are very competitive because we are able to run our own offense on both sides of the net every day, and challenge ourselves constantly. Now, our goal is to keep that going, and keep improving on both our individual skills, and our team skills. We are on the right path, but we still have a lot of work to do to be the team we want to be by the end of the season!

We travel tomorrow to play a very tough out-of-region opponent in Skidmore College before heading to Amherst this weekend for another round of Conference Matches. It's all three CT schools this weekend, starting with Wesleyan on Friday night, followed by Conn, and Trinity on Saturday. It's all getting very interesting now as we've passed the half-way point of the season.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

MIDD Wins Both in Maine

It was a long, and rainy trip over to Lewiston, ME, but we made it. When we arrived, we got to watch the last game of Amherst beating Bates, and then took the court ourselves to face the Mules of Colby College. We did have a couple of friendly faces as both MJ's parents, and Meg Anderson's mom made the long trek to ME to cheer us on. Also, a fellow MIDD Alum, Heidi Howard Allen (who is now married to the Bates head coach greeted us as she watched her husbands team play Amherst. She was allowed to cheer for us on Friday night against Colby!)

We started out well, winning the first game. We got off to a somewhat slow start, trading points and trailing by a few points early in the game, but finished strongly to take it 25-17. The second game, however, we got off to an even slower start, and didn't quite have the rally in us, it seemed. Colby was a very scrappy team, and despite not having a lot of power in their offense, they found some areas of the court that were open, and took the game 21-25. We seemed to be trying to help them out by serving out 9 times in just 4 games, but we did bounce back to win the last two games 25-18, and 25-12. In the end, I think our offense was just too much for them. Three people had double digit kills with MJ, Julia and Jane all posting 11. Elissa had a great hitting percentage with 5 kills on 12 swings, and no errors.

Defensively, we had four people with double digit digs. Jane and Lauren each had 19 digs, with Caitlin and Julia having 18, and 16 respectively. They were attacking our right side defense more than usual, it seemed, with Lauren and Julia combining for quite a lot of digs. Whit came through on the blocking front in a big way with 4 solos, and 2 assists to lead our defense at the net, while Elissa had two a piece.

The next day the sun broke through, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We played the late game (1:30), so we were able to sleep in, get a good, hot breakfast buffet, and had a leisurely morning enjoying some time just sitting outside the hotel before departing for the gym. Several people didn't like the coffee at breakfast that much, so we had decided to stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way to the gym. Fortunately, we were preparing to stop there, because our bus stalled, and we coasted to a stop right in front of the DD. People filed off to get their coffee, while Andy our bus driver frantically started calling the home office etc. to see what could be done about our bus situation.

Long story short, after stalling out several times on our way to the gym, which was only about 4 or 5 miles from the hotel, we made it, and Andy topped off the coolant, and drove it around while we watched the end of the Amherst-Colby match. He assured us by the time we finished, we'd be all set to get home safely.

We let him do his thing with the bus, while we prepared to play Bates. I don't know if it was the excitement from the bus, the iced coffee, or just good preparation in general, but we were pretty sharp from the initial serve. Our reactionary defense was about as good as it's been. They didn't have a lot of offense, but they came at us with several types of shots, and we just were alert, and ready and kept odd deflections in play, and regrouped when out of system, and pretty much dominated from start to finish. We subbed several people, and our level of play stayed very consistent, which was great to see.

Elissa had another great hitting game with 8 kills and no errors on 18 swings. She was followed by Jane with 7, Amy and Julia with 6, and MJ and Stud with 4 and 3. Whit again had 2 solo blocks to lead the defense at the net, while Caitlin again led our floor defense with 17 digs--she leads the Conference in Digs/game. Charlotte Ching came in and served well against Bates, and played some great defense as well. Lauren had over 10 assists a game which is a stat that currently leads the Conference. Also, Julia added 5 more aces to her impressive total of aces as she is among the leaders in the Conference in Aces.
In addition to our bus excitement, we had a fun lunch prepared for us by MJ's mom. She had asked if she could get us lunch, which was great, so we enthusiastically said, sure! By the time the team returned from the showers, there were 18 individual bags lined up in the bleachers with names on them. In each was a sandwich, a drink, chips, some healthy treats, and a couple of fun treats for dessert. How fun. Thank you, Angela! (Fortunately, we didn't end up needing them to shuttle us from our broken-down bus to the game 4 at a time, as we were thinking we might have to do at one point earlier that day.)

Notch up a couple more Conference wins for us, but truth be told, we have some tough ones coming up! Unfortunately, Bates and Colby are not two of the tougher teams we'll face in Conference. This weekend Bowdoin and Tufts come to our gym for our next round of Conference games, and we're looking forward to a good challenge with both of those matches. To top it off, it's Parents' Weekend, which is exciting as well. This is the time of year when teams generally feel like they're putting it together, and we're looking forward to testing our skills against both teams! We played Bowdoin earlier in the season, but this one is the one that will count toward the Conference Standings.

The Friday night 6pm match with Bowdoin will be webcast, but if you want to see our Tufts match at 1:30 the next day, you'll have to come in person to Pepin to catch the action! See you there.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Slow Start, but Strong Finish Beats Colby-Sawyer

We have had some sickness, and not everyone was in practice on Monday, and it may have showed in our opening set last night. We came out a little flat, and actually made more hitting errors than kills in the first set. That is never a good sign.

Despite the first game set-back, we did come back to take the next three sets for the win, but not without some fight. We traded points for a while in the 2nd, but it seemed that we were able to get more rotations where we scored at least one point to theirs that sided out right away. That was the case down the stretch in game 2. They did not score on their serve for 4 of the last 5 servers, whereas we we scoring one point per serve, every rotation late in the 2nd.

The third game was more a game of small strings of points. We started out with 7 straight points, and they had a string of points from 15-18, but we scored the last 5 points of the game to close it out.

The 4th game was similar to the 3rd, except that we seemed to be coming from behind the whole game. They were up 12-8 before we came back and forced them to take a timeout at 13-14. We called timeout when we were down 17-20. Elissa started serving down 19-22, and they called their last timeout after she'd served 2 points, and then she served three more points before they sided out at 24-23, but we came right back to win the next ball to take the match 25-23.

I think we showed some great composure late in that match to come from behind and power right through to win the match without going into extra points. To top off the night, the Barretts brought us "the" sandwiches from home, and some yummy deserts like monster cookies and magic bars. We ate in style right there at the gym after the match, which was FABULOUS. It was a pretty late night, topped off by it being a really dark, and somewhat rainy night up and over the mountains. We're taking the day off today in hopes that everyone can get a little more work done, and get some extra sleep so we're ready to practice tomorrow before heading into our Conference matches up at Bates this Friday and Saturday.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

MIDD Faced Tough Competition at Amherst Classic

We knew going into the weekend that it would be a good challenge for us. We didn't particularly practice all that well on Thursday, but I think we still felt good going into the match on Friday. Coast Guard and Brandeis were both top 15 teams in the Region, and we were looking forward to some great matches.

US Coast Guard was a very athletic team, as you might imagine, and even though our front line was bigger, they blocked us very well. We got out to an early lead, and they made a run mid-game, and from there on out it was a very tight match. They were definitely the most athletic team we've played this year, and their defense was very tough, keeping everything alive, even when it seemed the ball was going to go down.

The funny thing about that match (not ha ha funny), is that we actually scored more points then they did. In the one game that we won, we won by 7 points. They won the other three games, each by 2 points. We just couldn't seem to pull out any of those close sets. We seemed a little out of sorts all night. It wasn't any one thing that I could put my finger on, but it was a subtle, intangible mental aspect, or lack of enthusiasm, or something. Possibly without Caroline, we were thrown off, but MJ did a great job in the back row, so I can't really put my finger on it. We actually passed pretty well, and our defense was pretty solid, but we made just enough mistakes at key times that made the difference. We had too many service errors, and some repeated blocking mistakes which we will try to shore up in the next week.

The next day, we started out a little flat. We lost the first two games to an experienced, but seemingly unfit Brandeis team. We tried different people, and finally got in a bit of a groove in the 3rd and 4th sets, and looked as though we were going to get out of our funk, when the 5th set started. We got down by 7 points right off the bat, and never recovered. We made a great effort to get back in it by bringing it to 6-8, but that's as close as it would get. I think they just out-played us in the 5th, flat out, and that's what we can't have going forward.

We did manage to come out of the weekend with a win by beating an ever-better Westfield State team. We again put several different combos out on the floor in this match, and actually completely dominated them from start to finish.

It was a very good challenge for us this weekend, and we'll face just as tough and tougher competition in Conference, so as long as we learn from this, it'll all be fine in the end. We showed some good signs this weekend, they just came in spurts, and we need to be a little more mentally tough. Against the good teams, there is very little margin of error, and the team that can get it done when the game is on the line will win. Better to have that lesson hit home now, then at crunch time later in the season.

We did have several bright spots on the weekend. We had some great play off the bench with Stud and Maddie giving us a big lift against Brandeis. MJ and Courtney played some very solid back row defense, and Charlotte Ching came in a did a great job in a serving/defensive role. Courtney set a couple games against Westfield, and Amy Hart hit well in that last match. For some of our starters, our hitting percentages were down this weekend, due to some great defense, and tough blocking, but overall we played some solid volleyball. We had good set distribution against USCG, but Julia and MJ were the two that came through with double-digit kilss. Julia had 14 kills on 34 attempts, and MJ had 12 kills but also tacked on several hitting errors. Against Brandeis, it was Jane who was our lone offensive power as the only one with double-digit kills at 23! We had 14 receiving errors, which is too many.

We, once again, have plenty of things to work on! We play a mid-week away at Colby-Sawyer before heading to Maine to play both Bates and Colby this weekend.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MIDD downs Union in Three

Not only did we win another match at home, but we had a Midd VB alum in the stands to watch us! Ali ('04) is back living in Burlington and working in Vergennes after spending a few years in LA, and then Chicago. She reports that she's very, very happy to be back in VT, and loved watching us play. She commented on the size of our players, and the speed of the game since her time here. Not to mention that the libero position is new. She loved watching us play, and is excited to be back in touch with MIDD Volleyball action!
So, without Julia in the lineup, we moved MJ to the right side, and Studwell into the front row OH spot. The team was in control the first and third games, despite a little lull in intensity. The second game was a rough one as we just couldn't seem to muster the enthusiasm, nor the intensity to play our game, and take control of the tempo. We were making unforced errors, and just found ourselves not moving for balls, over passing, not covering, etc. etc. We continue to work on improving every day, and thus practice will be full of those little adjustments and intensity today!
Even though Julia wasn't playing tonight, it didn't stop her involvement with the pre-game preparation before our team pictures. It seems we have more than one hair braiding specialist on the team?! At least we were looking good before the game started.... As for our actual play, however, there were definitely some bright spots there as well. Overall, our serve receive was very good, with only one receiving error on the night, and an average of just over a 2.0 receive rating (my own rough estimation from game stats)?! Caitlin anchored our defense once again, as did Caroline and Jane. Meg Anderson received 9 serves with no errors, and MJ went 5/0 in receptions. Lauren came through with a good serving night with 3 service aces, and Elissa and Whit both had two blocks. Our offense was again varied with 6 players all having 3 or more kills: Jane, Elissa, Stud, MJ, Whit, and Maddie.
We will need to be on top of our game this weekend as we face a couple of top 15 teams in our Region, which will be exciting. Our next web cast will be our next home match, on Oct. 8 against Bowdoin.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MIDD Wins First Conference Match and Home Opener

Anyone who followed our team from last year would know that playing Amherst as our first Conference match would be a big match for us. If I close my eyes I can still see (and almost feel) the moment our season ended last year at the hands of Amherst 13-15 in the 5th down at Tufts. It would have been easy for us to harbor the grudge, and want all kinds of "revenge" on them in our match this year. Instead, however, the team decided that this year's team was a whole new team, and to let last year's baggage be just that: last year's baggage. Our strategy, then, was to just look at it like any normal match, us vs. them, 2010. The basic facts remained that we had 10 returners from last year, and they had 12. Knowing that, I think both teams came into the match having a good idea what to expect from the other team....mostly.

On their side, they've added a new RH, and a new DS to their starting lineup. The new DS was a boon for them as she was probably their best serve receiver on the night. Similarly, we have only two differences in our starting lineup as well, with Caitlin playing libero instead of right back, and MJ playing OH in the front row; although you could say that Julia playing back row is new too? I don't typically pay any attention to the crowd, however, the chant of, "She's a freshman!" was repeated fairly often as MJ tied Jane for a match high 14 kills. It was a great atmosphere for our first home match of the season!

I think we may have surprised ourselves, and certainly Amherst in taking the match in three straight sets. We played well all night. Our serve receive was very solid, and so was our hitting. We hit .308 as a team, which against a good team is very good. Our blocking continues to be something that we want to improve, but Elissa and Lauren both had two solo blocks, and we tallied 6 block assists on the night as well. We had great balance in our scoring with three players in double digit kills (Jane, MJ, and Julia), and Lauren may have set a 3 set match record for assists at 45. (I have to double check on that, but that's a lot of assists for only 3 sets!) Cordle and Caitlin both came up with some huge digs that kept any hopes of Amherst getting some momentum and taking a game out of reach.

The next day we faced a different challenge in St. Mikes. They're a much improved team from last year, and challenged us in a different way. They served us tough, and absolutely dug everything, such that our hitting % was down to .218. They really only had two players that hurt us offensively, but we just couldn't find a way to stop them with either the block, or our floor defense. Our serve receive was challenged, and was a bit shaky at times, but was also pretty steady at times. Julia served great, and had a couple of serving runs in two different sets that put those otherwise close sets out of reach for St. Mikes.

Try as they would, they could not stop Julia from anywhere across the front as she tallied kills from the left side out of serve receive, hitting 2's in the middle, and her regular repertoire of hits behind the setter. She may have even had a kill from the back row too. She had a great hitting day with a team high 17 kills on 32 swings for a hitting % of .406. In addition, she added 2 service aces, 0 errors on 18 reception attempts, 10 digs, and one block. That's a very well-rounded match. Jane also had a very well-rounded match with 13 kills, 1 ace, 17 digs, and 3 blocks.

To go along with all of those great statistics, Caitlin set a new school record for digs in a match with 48! (Insert chant: "She's a sophomore!") Caroline also had another stellar defensive effort with 15 digs, and a perfect 0/23 reception statistic. Lauren and Julia led the way with service aces at 3, and 2 respectively. And, we had very solid performances off the bench with Maddie, Meg and Charlotte each contributing strongly in two sets a piece. Maddie had 3 kills on 12 swings. Meg was very solid on defense in the right back position, and Charlotte came in to serve and had a service ace on her first serve.

All in all, it was a great weekend for us. To open Conference play with a win is always a good thing, and to beat a Conference rival as that home opener in front of a great crowd in Pepin was just plain fun! We're at home again on Tuesday night for another web cast game, in case you can't make it here to watch. Check out either our website, or the NESCAC website to see the match live.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

MIDD Sweeps Norwich

After our double-gap ride over to Norwich on a beautiful, yet somewhat crisp September afternoon, the team put together three solid games to put Norwich away in convincing manner. We had a lot of very solid contributions on the night, despite being somewhat inconsistent overall with our ball control. Stud paced our offense with 11 kills, followed by MJ with 7, and Jane with 6. (I should mention that Jane was last weeks NESCAC Co-Player of the Week. Yeah Jane!! That's quite a way to start off the season. Nice job!)

Maddie, Whit and Elissa each played two games with both Maddie and Whit having 4 kills apiece. Lauren ran the offense for two games before turning it over to her freshman counterpart, as Courtney had her college debut setting the 3rd game. I looked out at one point and commented to Brian that everyone on the court was either a freshmen or a sophomore, and we were very composed, which was great to see. Caitlin anchored our defense as usual, and led the team in digs with 14, and no receiving errors on 12 attempts. Caroline Cordle and Meg Anderson had a strong nights defensively with 5 digs each, and no receiving errors between them.

We have our opening HOME match, and also our first Conference Match of the season on Friday night, when we'll be taking on Amherst. It seems early to be starting Conference play, but since Amherst is our travel partner this year, it'll be nice to play them early. They are returning 12 players from last year's squad, as we returned 10, so it looks like it could be an early rematch from last year's somewhat epic battles. Should be FUN!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Season Opens 3-1 at Endicott

After 9 straight days of practice, the 2010 team was ready to play someone else. This pre-season was a very competitive one due to the depth of talent on the team, which has been a lot of fun so far. Pictured her are our new "rookies" near one of the many rock outcroppings on the campus there. We entered the Endicott Tournament in a pool with the host Endicott, Eastern CT State U., and Emmanuel. After beating ECSU, losing to Endicott, and beating Emmanuel, we ended up second in our pool, and faced the second team in the other pool, which ended up being none other than our NESCAC foe, Bowdoin.

Let me start out by saying a few things about our trip. The Endicott campus is beautiful. The sand volleyball court right on the ocean caught all of our eyes, not to mention the "country-club" like campus. The beds were really comfortable at our Hotel, and we were treated to dinner ala Barrett with our favorite salads, sandwiches, and famous caramelitas! Stud continued her braiding expertise on Jane (and possibly others) to keep the hair looking good and out of the way! On the movie front, we watched Pirates of the Carribean:Curse of the Black Pearl on the way down. Despite watching a scary thriller in Shutter Island while we ate dinner on the way home, we ended the trip on a happy note with Finding Nemo, which ended as we pulled into the Field House. All in all it was a great weekend that saw almost everyone get on the court, even if it was briefly.

We started out with our veteran lineup from last year, and a couple of the seasoned sophomores saw early action with both Maddie and Stud coming off the bench to perform very well that first night. Julia played some great defense after not really playing much back row last year, and Caitlin's transition to Libero was seamless. The surprise move (only because we haven't let her play there yet in practice) was when we put freshman MJ (her new nickname because I was getting tongue tied with Meg and Megan) in her third position of the year at OH, and we found a great combination during our Endicott match. For the weekend, Meg and Courtney both played a little at right back, and Stud and Amy both spent some time at OH in different matches. Charlotte H. did a nice job serving tough in a couple of matches, and MJ played a little at MH, RH, and OH. Maddie was very consistent in the Middle in a couple of different matches, which gives us good depth at that position that we haven't had in recent years.

As for the game action, here goes: After handling what ECSU could give us pretty well, and with several different line-ups, we faced a different challenge in the host school. They were a very tall team, and we were getting blocked quite a bit, so we tried a bigger line-up ourselves, and it turned out to be a good one. With MJ playing front row, and Cordle playing back row in that OH position, we found quite a combination. MJ's power and blocking in the front and Cordle's defense and serve recieve in the back make for a very complete position. That, combined with our other hitting duos of Jane and Julia, and Whit and Elissa, provided us a pretty powerful front line at all times. Lauren continued to dish out the ball all around, and when our serve receive was on, it was fun to watch. For the first weekend, it looked pretty good, all things considered.

On Saturday, Emmanuel didn't trouble us too much, despite our serve recieve taking a leave of absence, and a lot of unforced errors making it a much closer match than we felt like it should have been. The Bowdoin match was a very competitive one that ended up a bit lopsided in our favor at 3-0, but was actually a pretty close match. They were blowing us out early in the first game, and got quite a lot of momentum going behind some tough serving and blocking. It wasn't really looking good for us after a serving run by them of about 8 points in a row on the same server, but we rallied very nicely to chip away and not only got ourselves back in that first game, but actually went on a momentum shifting run ourselves and pulled it out in the end 25-23. Serve receive was key as both teams offense was pretty strong in system. In the end, I was delighted with our mental intensity, and composure, which was great to see, especially so early in the season.

Now, we have a mid-week match coming up with Norwich U., and then our Home Opener, and first official Conference match against Amherst on Friday night in Pepin. That match will be web cast, if anyone is interested! Check it out on the athletics web page at MIDD.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

2010 Team Bonds with Ropes Course

Our first team activity was dinner at my house. That was almost more of a meet-and-greet between the new freshmen (and some family members) and the rest of the team. It's always fun to have that first meeting be an informal one, and any meeting with food is a good one in my book. The next day we had our fitness test, which most people did successfully... NESCAC rules prohibited us from starting practice until Sept. 1, so we had time that afternoon for more team bonding as the rest of the Freshmen class was busy moving in. We decided to make the most of our time with the team before our own Freshmen get too bogged down in Orientation activities. A ropes course seemed the perfect idea! It was brutally hot, but at least being in the shade in the woods was a bit cooler, and being on the giant swing was almost like being in air conditioning. By the end of that day, I think we were all pooped, but we certainly knew eachother much better, which made our first practice the next morning at 6:30 am more enjoyable!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Studwell Has Exciting Summer Abroad

Sarah Studwell had an exciting and adventurous summer abroad. She spent six weeks in Europe in all, but split the trip into two halves. The first three weeks were spent working through the WWOOF Foundation where you work a few hours a day on an organic farm in exchange for housing and meals. Sarah said the following about that experience, "That was a blast, though sometimes we did some pretty hard work."

The next three weeks she backpacked from the Netherlands to Munich, Prague, Cinque Terre (Italy), and ended in Barcelona. What Sarah had to say most about that part of the trip was this, "Barcelona was really fun for me because I got to speak a lot of Spanish, and in both Spain and Germany we got to watch World Cup Games in the country that won. That was very exciting!"

She also reported that in addition to playing a lot of beach volleyball for the remainder of the summer, she will be working a lot to pay for her trip! Sounds like a great summer to me! Thanks for sharing, Stud! :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jane Bikes 300 Miles to "Grant a Wish"

This summer Jane had a little help with her workouts. She participated in the Make-a-Wish Foundation Bike Ride. The young boy she sponsored was a 4th grader whose name is Matthew. The "mission" of the organization is: "Our Mission: The Make-a-Wish Foundation of Michigan grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy." She and some of her family participated in the 300 mile bike ride, and then her special friend, Matthew was the one to put her medal around her neck at the end of the ride.
This is some of what Jane had to say about the ride. "I DID IT!! I'm a little bit shocked that I'm still functioning, but it was an amazing experience doing the Make-a-Wish bike ride. There were so many inspirational was so cool. You sponsor a kid, and then you get to meet them at the end and they give you your medal. I was definitely crying by that time. His name is Matthew and he's only going into 4th grade. It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done (both mentally and physically) but it was sooo worth it in the end!"

Great work, Jane. I think it sounds like a win-win for both you and Matthew. And, you got some great exercise out of it, too. We all know cross-training is good, but I certainly never expected a 300 mile bike-ride to be one of your "other fun activities" over the summer. Way to go!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Julia Joined Crew this past Spring

Julia didn't know much about Crew before getting to Middlebury, but thought she'd give it a try. After a winter filled with a lot of training inside in the erg room, and weights and more weights, they finally got to get outside early in the spring, and into the water. She's said that they rowed through Snow, Hail, and all sorts of various Spring weather. All Spring Sports in Vermont have to deal with the weather, but possibly none worse than Crew. This may have been one of our "best" Springs in a long time, but we still had our fair share of downright chilly weather, especially if you're out on the lake in the wee hours of the morning! Here is a link to some pictures of Julia's boat. Way to go, Julia!!