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!