Advancing to the Regional Finals was another step forward for our Program. Cortland proved to be a tough foe, and although the match was very competitive, they ended our season by winning their 42nd match against only one loss all season.
We did get to see them play a couple of times, both Friday and Saturday, and we knew they would be a tough team. We felt like their strength was their blocking, but that their floor defense could be a weakness, and if we could stay in system and on the offensive, then we could really pressure them. Offensively, we felt like we could match them. We were successful to start out, and we served them tough, and jumped out to an early lead. Although they closed it to a few, they never pulled even, and we surged ahead at the end to have 8 set points at 24-17. They gained some momentum as they scored four behind some good blocking and a couple of errors on our part before we closed out the set.
They came out strong behind that slight momentum shift late in the second set, but we were attacking well too, and despite the back-and-forth nature of that game, there were a couple of small runs to end the game, and unfortunately, we didn't have the last one. We came back from down 20-17 to go up by one at 21-20, but they closed it out at 25-22 on their final run to end the set.
The third set turned out to be a big one. It was a game of swings as we jumped out early to an 11-6 advantage, only to have them go on a run of their own to take a 14-11 advantage. They kept pushing it to 22-17, but we fought back with a late run of our own to tie it at 23 which showed a lot of grit and determination. We fought off two set points and tied it both times to keep pushing extra points, but never gained a set point of our own, and eventually fell 27-25.
We seemed undaunted by the setback, and we've certainly been in that position several times earlier in the year, and we came out trading points with them in what had been, and continued to be a very even match back and forth. Down one at 14-15, they put a dagger in us by going on a 7 point, unanswered run. Despite a timeout, we couldn't get a stop, and from that point, they closed out the match with a 10-5 run to earn them a trip to St. Louis and the Elite 8.
I think at that point in the season, a loss is devastating, especially in a very competitive and tight match. We felt like we played well, but could have played better down the stretch, but isn't that usually the case when you lose? SUNY Cortland was a very good team that had only lost one match all year, and they had a lot of different weapons, as did we, but we forced them to really earn the win.
Our goal had been to get our hitting % as a team up above .200, which we did for not only this match, but had been consistently doing toward the end of the season enough to put us at .201 for the season, good enough for 4th in NESCAC. After being in the bottom half all season in that category, that was good news, and to hit .217 against Cortland, who is a very good blocking team, that was good to see. Amy Hart hit an impressive .448, Maddie was .500, and MJ was .316 to lead our offensive efficiency! We were, however, out-blocked 18-6, and that was an insurmountable difference. We actually ended with more kills, and service aces, and less blocking errors and receiving errors, but ended with 8 more hitting errors. The stats don't always tell the story, however, and we fought for the match, and had some people really step up along the way to get us to where we were. Great Team Effort!
All in all, it was a fantastic season. Having to start without a senior captain for half of the season, and losing our starting setter early in the season gave us some adjustments to make. The team depth proved to be very important and people stepped up, and we just kept trying to move forward and keep improving as the season went along, and I think we did an excellent job of that. We seemed to hit stride late in the season, and made a great run through the NESCAC Tournament until we came up against Bowdoin in the Finals, but honestly, it could have been the Conference Semi-final win over Tufts that put is in the NCAA's?! Hard to say, but our strength of schedule certainly helped too, as we had strongest schedule in all of New England according to the NCAA criteria.
Next year will be yet another new team dynamic, and we'll once again set forth trying to be the best we can be and see if we can take another step forward for the MCVB Program. With the past couple of seasons, it's getting tougher and tougher to top, but then, we all love a good challenge!!