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.