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!