Sunday, October 30, 2011

MIDD Wins Two--Takes 3rd Seed for NESCAC's

Our final Conference Weekend of the season went well, and that earned us the #3 seed for the upcoming NESCAC Tournament. We traveled to Amherst to take on Hamilton on Friday night and Williams on Saturday morning. Friday night we played our match after Amherst played Williams. That was quite a match as Williams won the first two sets before Amherst came back to win the next three in dramatic fashion on their Senior Night. It was close the whole way, and it drew everyone's attention as both our team and Hamilton were warming up on the other court, but kept coming back to see what the score was and to watch the back and forth match.

When we finally took the court, we came out a bit sluggish and battled with Hamilton for most of the first two sets. We struggled to get anything really going in the first set, but managed to go on a couple of runs that put us ahead for the win at 25-16. MJ and Amy were our offense with 3 and 4 kills that set. It was more of the same in the second set, and we trailed for most of the it before barely eking out a win 26-24 behind 6 kills from MJ, and 4 for Jane. We just seemed a half step slow to the ball, and we just made everything look hard, but once we got both our OH's going, they really couldn't answer that. We finally got on track in the third as we came out on fire, and opened up a big lead early that saw Hamilton blow through both time-outs in the first 15 points. MJ had 7 kills on 8 swings, and Jane had 3 on 4 swings, and Amy added 3 kills. We then cruised to a 25-9 win in that game, and headed to the hotel for our "Special Sandwich" dinner ala Barretts. Our match got started late, and even though we won in three, it was late by this time, so we actually got everyone to motivate and get in and out of the showers so we could get back to eat and get to bed relatively early. MJ stole the show with 16 kills, followed by Jane (8), and Amy (7). Caitlin led all defenders with 25 digs, while Jane had 15, and Elissa led all blockers with 4, followed by Julia with 3, and Maddie with 2. Lizzy and Meg shared the DS spot, while Stud served and played defense for Elissa.

Continental Breakfast at the hotel was not a lot to write home about, but it is fast, and fits our budget well! We finished in plenty of time for the captains to ask if we could swing by our favorite place on our way to the gym--Dunkin Donuts! (The money we save on hotel breakfast we easily spend at DD!) Yes, they brought it up on their phones, and there was one less than a mile from our hotel, so we pulled our bus into the parking lot, and piled out to get our favorite caffeine jolts before heading to the gym. This was the first time the main question was, "do I want it hot or cold?!" The winter weather had set in overnight, and the air was crisp, and the weather stations were all talking about the winter storm heading our way. Our trusty bus-driver, Gary was saying we should get on the road as quickly as possible after the match to beat the storm home. (Just for reference, we didn't end up getting much of anything up in Middlebury, and Sunday was a gorgeous day to be outside!)

Ice and hot coffee's in hand, we headed into the gym to prepare to take on the Eph squad. We were ready to play, and despite a back and forth first set, we won the first set 25-22. In the second set we jumped out early, and kept a consistent lead of about 5 points most of the way through and ended up with a 25-13 win in dominating fashion in the 2nd set. We blocked well, and our defense came up a notch, and our consistency was pretty solid and we closed out the 3-0 win with a final set of 25-18. Amy led all hitters with 11 kills, followed by MJ (9), Jane (8), and Elissa (7). Elissa ended with 5 blocks, and Amy with 4, while Caitlin and Jane led the team in digs with 11, and 12 respectively. Julia had 32 assists, and has been consistently averaging over 10 assists per game here lately. Meg and Lizzy again split the DS spot, and Stud again served and played defense for Elissa.

One amazing thing happened that I'd like to mention here because it really struck me as a very cool thing. Friday night Amherst celebrated their Senior Night. One of the parents from Amherst brought purple and white leis for their seniors, as is sometimes typical. But, before our match, he brought over blue and white ones for our two seniors. I didn't really understand just what was going on until later, and it floored me. I think he may have even made signs for all seniors or MIDD seniors, I'm not even sure--I just heard the players commenting on the signs! The thoughtfulness in that, for a rival team (although, we are "travel partners") was amazing, and truly above and beyond sportsmanlike, and just very cool. I've never experienced anything like that in all my years of coaching, not without a connection of some kind to both programs. Anyway, I wanted to share that because it was a really special experience.

OK, now we have the 3rd seed for the NESCAC's next weekend up at Bowdoin. We'll take on Conn in the first round at 8pm next Friday. The winner of our game will play the winner of Tufts/Colby on Saturday. We will be packing for the weekend, and bringing our best game with us so we hope to stay the whole time!

Our last regular season match is actually this Tuesday night, so we're looking to stay game-ready this week by taking on Div. II St. Mikes up in Colchester, and then having two more practices after that for final preparations before the weekend. FUN time of year, and Happy Halloween to everyone!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Emma Returned Home

I'm a little belated in posting this, but Emma has returned home from the Hospital, and is doing well. She keeps in close contact with Courtney still, and writes her letters, and misses her best friend who's gone back to school in VT. She's apparently met the Bronco's quarterback, and informed him that while she'd like for him to join Team Emma, he'd better take care of Team Bronco first! :) Sounds like she's got her spunk totally back! We're still thinking about you out here in Vermont, Emma. Keep getting better!!

The team signed this pink volleyball to send to Emma for her return home from the Hospital.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meg's Birthday Celebration at Mt. Holyoke

We were the last team playing, once again, for the weekend. For whatever reason, especially at this tournament, we tend to be the last team in the gym. The matches ahead of us ran late, and then we went to 4 sets. Anyway, the good news about this was that we had the gym to ourselves as the team donned the birthday hats for Meg's birthday!! We had cupcakes (very yummy!), and party hats, and even a few noise makers, and sang happy birthday right there in the gym to our birthday girl! Happy Birthday, MEG!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Successful 2-1 Weekend at the Hall of Fame

We came away from our weekend 2-1, and although we really wanted to beat Springfield, we did post a couple of very good wins against Wellesley and MIT. Wellesley was ranked above us in the New England Poll, and had been playing very well lately with a big win over Springfield giving the #1 team in NE their first loss of the season.

We played Wellesley on Friday night, and I think we took control of the match early on, and really set the tempo. Our goal was to really stay offensive-minded, and I think we did a good job of that. Our receive was on, and we were able to get the ball to our outsides with consistent sets where they had good angles around the block to hit, and Wellesley couldn't really contain them. MJ and Jane had 17, and 12 kills respectively. Amy and Elissa chipped in with 6, and 7 to round out our offensive attack.

Caitlin anchored our defense with help from Jane, and Lizzy on receive, and it was overall a very solid match. Caitlin's mom brought our favorite sandwiches again, and despite a last minute hotel change, we ended up in a nice hotel and had our dinner there before getting in bed relatively early for us. This allowed several kids to get some well-needed sleep at the end of a tough week of mid-terms and work due right before Fall Break, which is Monday and Tuesday.

Saturday morning we arrived at Smith in plenty of time to allow a team walk down-town to the Dunkin Dounuts for some ice coffee. The extra caffeine may have been needed since we pulled out a very tight three game match with MIT at noon.

MJ, and Jane led with 10 kills each, while Amy had 6, and Julia and Elissa each had 5 and Maddie had 4 for about our most even distribution of kills yet this year. We also had the longest single game I think I've ever been a part of playing to 25 when we won 34-32. That showed a lot of guts, and poise on our part as we were down by a point several times during that stretch, but pulled out the win. The 3rd set we actually dug ourselves quite a hole, but instead of dropping that set (as we've been prone to doing at times), we chipped away, and pulled ahead to finish out with a 3 point win in the last set, which was really great to see. This time of the year, we could very well find ourselves in very tight matches quite often, and it's great to see the poise and determination to hang strong, and step up and make some plays.

The last match of the weekend was against the #1 team in the Region, Springfield. They'd suffered only their 2nd loss of the season in the noon match against Tufts, and we were determined to be their 3rd loss! We came out strong, and may have surprised them a bit as we seemed to frustrate them by keeping them out of what they really wanted to do. They had some trouble really getting their big middle involved and effective, and we took the first game 25-19. The rotated their lineup a bit in the 2nd, and that seemed to be a slight advantage to them, but we still had our opportunity to win that second set, but couldn't quite come up with the big point when we needed it, and dropped a tight 2nd set 24-26.

In the 3rd set we tried Piper on the big middle, but she was getting going and we were having trouble containing her as she had a big game, and showed why she's their g0-to hitter. They were also in system more that game, and were able to run her across the net. Again, we were not far off the mark, losing that game by 3 points, but I don't think we were as consistent as we wanted to be. Our receive started to get a bit shaky at points, and then that threw off our offense, and we gave them a few too many easy shots. One thing that we did start to do, however, was to be really aggressive with our back row attacks, and that was good to see, and something that we've been talking about and trying to incorporate into our system, so that was a very good sign to see some real sparks there!

Our consistency fell off a bit more in the last game, and they came away with a 17-25 win in the final set. Although it was disappointing to lose to them, I think we were able to come away from the weekend with very positive outlook, along with a few things that we'd like to improve on before we play our last Conference Weekend before heading into the Tournament. Nice job, MIDD. For her efforts on the weekend, Jane was named to the All-Tournament Team, so congrats to Jane for that!!

Now, the kids can enjoy some nice, relaxing time off with no classes to go to on Monday or Tuesday, and I'll actually get home for dinner with my family on those two nights since we'll have practice earlier in the day. It's a win-win! :)

We don't play again until next Friday when we travel to Amherst to take on Hamilton and Williams.

MIDD Takes Plymouth in 5 Sets

We were still witnessing the devastation from Irene as we made our trip over the mountains to Plymouth on Wednesday afternoon. We attempted to make the over the mountain pass with some minor detours, but those turned out to be very time consuming. After a nice "tour" of some back roads somewhere near Bethel, VT we finally made it to the interstate, but we were desperately short on time. Our detour, which was probably less than 10 miles out of our way took us over 45 minutes! All in all, we arrived at the gym about 5-10 minutes before we wanted to start warming up, when we usually arrive between 45-60 minutes before we want to warm up.

I have to say, however, that the majority of the team was out on the court within about 10 min, which was impressive for our bunch! Very good hustle, and that desire and attitude could have been the extra factor in a very closely contested match that night.

Jane Handel exploded for 21 kills, and she answered the call when we needed a kill several times at key moments. They had a couple of outside hitters that were their main offense, but we put three hitters in double-digit kills to their two. MJ and Amy had 17, and 14 kills respectively, and we out-blocked them 20-12. The most impressive thing about our blocking on the night was that I'd guess that about 80% of our blocks came late in the match?! That's only a guess, but we were not having good success blocking early in the match, and we kept making slight adjustments, and then something clicked in with our blockers, and we just started seeing the hitters better, and getting the block set right where we wanted it, and got the timing down, and started to shut them down, which was great to see.

Maddie ended with 5 blocks, and MJ, Amy and Julia all had 4 blocks. Jane and Caitlin led the floor defense with 22, and 21 digs respectively. Julia had 55 assists, 1 ace, and 17 digs to go along with 4 kills for a very good all-around night.

For the ride home, we just took the safe, late night route through Rutland on Rte. 4 so we wouldn't have to navigate those back road detours at night, in the rain! We have the Hall of Fame Tournament this weekend where we'll face off with other non-Conference Regional Rivals Wellesley, MIT, and Springfield College. Should be fun!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

MIDD goes 2-1 at NESCAC Quad in Maine

What a trip. It was raining hard a good bit of the way over, and was miserable, but nothing was stopping us on our quest to knock off Bowdoin, and get our Maine weekend off to a good start. We came out ready to play, and took a very tight first game 26-24. The second game was a rare moment in sports that we hope we never repeat. We got stuck in one rotation and that was the game. We made every error in the book, and they kept the pressure on. It was awful.

We rebounded well after that fiasco, and despite losing the 3rd set, it was again very tightly contested. The 4th game opened with us fighting for every point again, and we opened up a small lead, and finished out that game ahead by 6 points to force a deciding 5th game. We showed a lot of heart and good play to force that fifth game, and once again came out firing away, and took a commanding lead of a few points for most of the 5th. We reached the pinnacle of 14-10, and then seemed to freeze up a bit. We only needed one little point to finish them off, but we seemed to be waiting for them to make the mistake, instead of us making the play to end it. Well, needless to say, they didn't make the mistake, and we didn't make the play, and they made the improbable comeback at that point to win 17-15. It was devastating, there's no other way to describe it. We did some great things, but they were hard to even remember after losing that way.

Somehow, we had to regroup for our matches the next day. Regroup we did, although, it was a bit of a struggle to get going as we dropped the first set to Bates, who hadn't won a Conference Match all season. We did regroup after that, and pulled ahead to take the next three sets, but it was pretty close most of the way. We struggled a bit to get things going, and connecting, and it just seemed that we were making it hard on ourselves. Nothing comes easy some times, but we plowed through, and took complete control in the last set against Bates, and things started to look up again.

Colby, however, proved to be a tenacious team to start out, after having taken Amherst to 5 games the night before, they were ready to battle for a win. They took an early lead on us, and kept it most of the first game. We started to get back on track with our complete game, and surged ahead to win 25-20. After that, it was all us. We got back in a groove, and they had no answer for MJ, who had 15 kills, no errors on 29 swings. Amy and Jane each had 6 kills, and Maddie and Elissa had 4, and 3 kills. We blocked very well as a team, which is always nice to see, and Elissa, Piper and MJ all had 4, and Maddie and Julia and Amy all had 3 blocks. Caitlin again led the defense with 17 digs, while Julia and Jane added 10, and 6.

We're on the road all this week, it seems. We have Plymouth State on Wednesday, and the Hall of Fame this weekend at Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges where we'll play Wellesley, MIT, and Springfield.

SENIOR Night Win!

The Skidmore Thoroughbreds were no match for our Panthers in our last home game of the season, and Senior Night! We dominated play early on, and even had the opportunity to try out a 6-2 that we haven't been able to run most of the year now.

After we introduced our two seniors, and their many accomplishments between the two of them, Julia and Amy sang the National Anthem along with the rest of the Mischords. Once play started, we cruised to an easy win in game one 25-12. Game two was more of the same, and then in the 3rd, we adjusted our lineup and had Julia and Olivia set a 6-2, and because of Courtney being out for so long now, neither of them ever gets to hit much in practice because they're both setting. We struggled a bit with the lineup that we never use even in practice, but Olivia went back to serve late in the game and finished it out at the serving line. That showed a lot of poise by our freshmen, and it was a great team win to pull out that last set when we were off kilter a bit with an unfamiliar lineup.

No one had more than 2 hitting errors all night, and everyone got in that was healthy enough to play. Julia and Amy hart had 6, and 4 serving aces respectively, and MJ led the team with 9 kills. Elissa had two blocks, and Caitlin had 17 digs for our defensive effort.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

MIDD Splits Conference Weekend at Tufts

It was a gorgeous Fall Weekend with summer-like temperatures, and lots of family around, and we were hopeful for a fun weekend. We had parents from all over, Jane's trainer who'd never seen her play before, Lauren was back to see us play, Elissa's brother, and other relatives and friends of several players. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a stumble. I don't think it compares to last year's mid-season stumble when we lost two 5 set matches back to back to both Conn and Trinity in the same afternoon, but it was painful nonetheless.

Friday night we got off to a slow start, and seemed to not be mentally dialed in, but our talent won out and we pulled out a tight, come from behind victory in set one over Conn 26-24. We rallied in the 2nd game to get back on track with our game plan, and started to run our offense and won easily while hitting a powerful .429! We were still in control in the 3rd game, but it was a bit closer as we came away with a 25-22 win to seal the match. Overall, MJ led our offense with 11 kills, and Jane and Stud added 8, and 6 kills respectively. Our hitting % for the night was .296, which is higher than usual for us, and that was great to see. We out-blocked them 12-4, and held them to a hitting % of .116.

Saturday afternoon was a different story. The positive was that we stayed in a really nice hotel, had a great "grocery store breakfast" right there in the hotel, and even got to walk to a Dunkin Donuts around the corner from our Hotel before heading back to the gym. That was where the fun ended, I think.

Tufts came out strong, and served us out of the match. They were in system all night with powerful hitters that we just couldn't contain that day. Our receive was off (is that an understatement?!), and thus we had trouble getting any offense going. As if that wasn't bad enough, Tufts was ON it. It was almost like the perfect storm brewing. We couldn't pass, thus were not able to run any kind of offense, so we gave them easy balls, and they ran their offense down our throats, which tended to put us back on our heels for the upcoming serve receive, and you see the vicious cycle developing here.

There are a few stat lines that provide some clarity: they had 41 kills to our 20; they hit .252 to our .010; we had 10 receiving errors to their 3, and they had 39 assists to our 18. We actually out-blocked them 11-10, but we seemed to do a lot more keeping it in play, than attacking the ball. Caitlin came away from the match with 19 digs as our defensive leader, and was aided by 8 digs by both Jane and Julia. We have done that very thing to teams before, and now we know what it's like to be on the other side. Once is enough, I say!

We take on Skidmore on Tuesday night for our final Home game of the season, and thus, Senior Night! It will we web cast for anyone who won't be able to be there. Match time is 7pm.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

MIDD Sweeps Home Weekend

This was the second year in a row that we swept Amherst at home! It was a great crowd, a great atmosphere, and what fun we had! We came out ready to play, and just overpowered Amherst. They may have struggled a bit, but we also just played well. We blocked about as well as we have all season, which was really great to see. We've been working on it consistently, but it's not the kind of skill that gets significantly better overnight (although, what skill does?!) Anyway, it was fun to see us have some success with something that we've been working on.

MJ and Stud led our offense, and Caitlin and MJ led our back row defense (20, 10 digs), and Julia and Elissa led our net defense (5, 7 Block Assists). Maddie and Amy Hart both had very good nights with efficient hitting percentages, and block assists as well. One of the highlights, in addition to the statistical ones, and also the WIN, was the return of Jane!! She was cleared to full practice the night before, and then was cleared to play, so she saw her first action of the year in the last game against Amherst, which brought a roar from our faithful crowd!

Since this was our only Home Weekend, the parents all brought food for us after the match, and we celebrated like it was senior night! We do love our food! We had quite the spread of food with pizza, and fruit, and desserts galore, and so many parents. Steve, our Faculty Affiliate was there with his family too, and my kids were around for a bit, and we even have a manager now, Maxmarie, who was there for a while too. She's helping us out in practice and at home matches, and it's been great to have her help! I think that everyone had at least one parent here except for Nicki and Courtney, which was a fabulous turnout. THANK YOU PARENTS! Nicki and Courtney's parents--we missed you, but in your absence, they hosted our recruit for the weekend, and did such a good job that now she's coming--yeah!

The next morning we watched as Keene State looked like they might run away with the match against Amherst before the Jeffs came back to force a 5th game, and then won! We got off to a very shaky start with nothing really being easy, nor smooth, nor sharp, and thus we lost the first game. The second was more of the same, but we almost pulled it out, but didn't. It was odd, kind of, we were just off and out of sync, and making everything look difficult. We made some substitutions, and Jane and Stud ended up with the OH positions, but it was Amy Hart who turned things around for us. She and Julia were in sync and Amy lit it up for a team high 15 kills with only 1 error on 33 swings! Julia had very good set distribution with three players in double digit kills, and three others with 7, 8, and 9 kills.

Maddie had 7 kills with only one error, and Elissa had 13 kills with 31 swings. MJ and Jane both saw some hitting errors, but ended up with close to double digit kills. Elissa had 3 solo blocks, and 3 Block Assists, and Caitlin had a team high 28 digs. Amy added on 17 digs, and Julia added 16 for two very solid defensive performances.

We've had a whole week of practices which has allowed us to lift, and do some good breakdown work, and now we're gearing up for more Conference action as we head to Tufts to play Conn and Tufts this weekend. The NESCAC is as tough as ever, and is seeming to be as deep as ever, so all these matches coming up should be great challenges, and we love a good challenge!