Monday, November 12, 2012

MIDD Ends Season in NCAA Regional Semifinals

NCAA's!  It's always great to still be playing in November!  By virtue of winning our Conference, we were awarded the automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament, but we had to wait until Monday when the brackets came out to see where we would be playing, and whom.  Once again, we were put in the NY Regional due to our location and proximity to the North Country host site of Clarkson University.  It was the usual cast of characters with 7 of the same 8 teams that were there last year.  Only SUNY New Paltz was new, replacing Rivier from last season.  We felt good about the bracket pairings in that we would be playing all news teams in our  half of the bracket, and we would only see someone we had faced already this year possibly in the Finals.

We were awarded the #2 seed, while SUNY Cortland had the #1 seed again this year.  Our first match was against the #7 seed Southern Vermont College.  They had a very successful season once again, and won their Conference to earn their way into the NCAA's again.  I thought they would be tough, and they proved to be a very formidable opponent.  In the end, our offense was too much for them, and we emerged as 3-1 victors.  We served well, and despite being a bit "off" on several key skills, we were good enough to pull out the victory.   We knew, however, that we'd need to play better the next day if we wanted to win the next game.

While traveling to Clarkson isn't that bad of a trip for us from Middlebury, our parents really had to work hard to get up there.  We still had a very good faithful following of parents, which was amazing, and they treated us to a buffet dinner after our match Friday night.  Dave and Barbara Gibbs brought Brian and I over to the dinner a little late so we could watch more of the Clarkson/New Paltz game that started at 8pm after our match.  It was a great match, and since we'd play the winner, Brian and I wanted to scout a bit more of that match, and Dave was enjoying watching it so it worked out great.  We put the team (and Lois) on the bus and sent them to the restaurant with the rest of the parents, and then met up with them after we'd watched 3 sets of action.  Clarkson lost the first set and then went on to win the next three, which in hindsight could have been foreshadowing...

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and formulated a plan for the next day.  We didn't play until 6pm on Saturday night, so we had almost all day to try to find something to do.  Now, I love the North Country, but there isn't a whole lot going on up there.  For the most part, the team was happy to sleep in and have time to do homework, so that's what we did all morning.  There was also an Amish buggy parked across the street from our hotel that was selling hand-made baskets of all sizes and shapes, so several of us (me, Lois and some of the moms!) went shopping!  We were all intrigued a bit by the Amish, and even though I grew up in an Amish part of Indiana, I don't see them very often anymore, so it's enjoyable to see that they're still thriving with their way of life in today's hectic world. 

At 2pm we headed out to Potsdam to find some lunch, and a Dunkin Donuts, and then make our way back to the gym.  We parked our bus so we could spread out and leisurely walk through town looking for lunch, we couldn't help but realize the stark contrast to our mode of transportation to the one parked next to us.  The horse wasn't even tied up, and was so docile.  It was amazing.

Once we got to the gym, however, the action was definitely not docile.  We watched as Cortland lost in straight sets to New Paltz for the first upset of the tournament.  Cortland was stunned to say the least, but New Paltz out-played them.  Everyone knows that anything can happen when you get to this point in the season, and to keep playing you have to bring your game every time, and Cortland just didn't have it that day.  It's always a mix of emotions to see a good team lose "prematurely", and to see the "underdog" win the big match.  At the #1v#4, I guess you'd have to describe it that way, even though the teams had split during the regular season. 

We warmed up for our match with Clarkson and looked pretty good to start out.  We won the first set, and our offense looked pretty good, and our serving had forced them into 5 receiving errors, which was good.  We were getting touches on their outside hitters, and despite not passing great, we were able to run our offense enough to take the first set.  In serving tough, however, we also had 8 service errors through the first two sets.  They seemed to get used to our servers, and they started passing our serves pretty well after that first game, whereas we continued to struggle with theirs.  Our receive was just off.  They were serving deep, and nothing we did seemed to help--stepping up to take it with our  hands or moving back--we still seemed to be getting jammed and popping the pass up to the middle of the court, or into or over the net.  We were running Kathryn all over the place, and thus had trouble getting our offense in sync.  They weren't necessarily getting aces, but our passes were not good enough to run our full offensive options.  When we were in system, our offense looked good.  The 2nd and third sets were very close back and forth score-wise until the mid-way point of each game.  In the middle of both sets, Clarkson had a four point run that we just couldn't stop, nor come back from it seemed.  We'd had many games like this during the season, and had fought back to win many of them despite being down a few points late in sets.  However, today the combination of not passing well, added to the fact that our block stopped getting touches on their OH's proved to be a deadly combination for us.  Their two outsides combined for 36 kills to 26 from ours.  Neither team boasted a great hitting % overall, as they were .216 to our .190, but that was below our season average.

Caitlin emerged with a match high 19 digs, and statistically, we were very similar across the board with the exception of kills and assists.  What didn't show up in the stats, however, was overall ball control.  They didn't ace us with their serves that often, but we were not passing 3 balls, or even that many 2 ball options, and that's what hurt us.  Without being able to really attack them, they were able to better keep the pressure on us, and that was key to the game.  I give credit to Clarkson who seemed to execute their game plan a bit better than we did.  Neither team changed up lineups or anything else, and they just out-played us.   They are a very good serving team, and so it wasn't just that our receive didn't show up, but more that we didn't step up our receive to the challenge of their tough serves.

While it's so disappointing in the moment, after the dust settles we all recognize that it was a fabulous season!  We had a lot of great contributions from everyone throughout the season, and once we settled into a lineup that seemed to be gelling mid-way through the season, we really had a fantastic spell of high level volleyball late in the season.  By beating Wellesley and going 5 with Springfield at the Hall of Fame Tournament, I think we built the confidence that we could play with anyone. Then we had our last Conference weekend beating Bowdoin and Tufts at home, and that propelled us into the Conference Tournament on a high note.  Coming from behind to beat Bowdoin in the Semi's and then taking Conn in straight sets to win the Conference Championship was very thrilling.

This was probably the best overall team I've ever coached at MIDD, and I have been fortunate to have coached some great teams.  We had all the pieces, and we had a string of BIG wins, we just didn't get that last one.  Every year we gain confidence and experience, and hopefully our younger players will benefit from this experience, and we hope to be back in the mix again next year.  For now, we'll take some time off, catch up on work for the players, laundry and family time for me, and work and family time for Brian.  Then, after we celebrate our season this year, we'll get started working toward next year.  We had quite a lot of wonderful individual honors as well, but I'll put all of them in a separate blog post very soon.  For our FOUR seniors, however, they have made a lasting impression on both this Team, and this Program,and our banner that hangs in the gym will have TWO years of NESCAC Championships that they were an instrumental part of producing.  THANK YOU, SENIORS!!!  We will certainly miss you all!!

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