Monday, October 26, 2015

New England Challenge Matches Prove to be Tough Challenge

This weekend has always been the Hall of Fame Tournament, which for the last 5 years has also meant Meg's birthday!  This year it fell on Thursday, before we left, so we had to celebrate after practice with some cake for Meg!

Instead of the Hall of Fame Tournament, we went to MIT for a New England Challenge Tournament.  It's basically the same thing:  three NESCAC teams played three NEWMAC teams, so it was a good test for how we match up against some of the top teams in NE other than NESCAC.  We played MIT on Friday night, and fought hard, but just didn't have the umph to come through, I'm afraid.   We were tied 16-16 in the first set before MIT went on a 5-0 run that we couldn't come back from.  Set two saw them score points in runs again, scoring at least 3 points in a row on three different occasions, taking a lead of 12-18.  We clawed our way back in it to get within 2 at 17-19, but another run took them to 17-22 and they took set two 19-25.  Set three we got off to a great start, and lead from the first point, taking a lead of 16-13 before they scored two kills, while we had two hitting errors, and suddenly we're down one 16-17.  We tied it at 17, and then went quickly down by two-three points before we rallied to come within one again at 22-23, before two kills by their OH put the match away for good.

We headed back to our hotel knowing that our Italian dinners were being delivered to the hotel about the same time we'd get there, and everyone was pretty excited about that, despite our disappointment about the game.  Morning came pretty early as we grabbed our to-go breakfast bags and ate on the bus (except for those of us that got up early enough to eat it at the hotel.)  We departed for MIT again at about 8am, and arrived on our characteristically early schedule.

Being in Boston has certain advantages for everyone, I think, as alums and parents can get to us a little more easily.  Rose, Sarah, Melanie, Alice, Jen, and Emily all had family there, and several of the players had friends there also.  We also had several alums, and alum families in the gym over the weekend, which was fantastic.  Amy Hart, Elissa Goeke, Caitlin Barrett, Katie Kenney Enslin and her parents, and Meg's parents and sister were all there at points throughout the weekend. Amy brought a group of boys she's teaching for an afternoon outing on Saturday, while Elissa was visiting her friend who coaches Field Hockey at MIT, and Katie Enslin has recently moved back to the Boston area with her family.  It's always nice to have fans, and to see family, friends and alums, so THANK YOU to all that came out to support us this weekend!

Babson was our first opponent, and they were on a roll after beating MIT earlier in the week, and then beating Williams on Friday night. Those were both big wins, and I think they were anticipating playing Tufts in the afternoon as they'd never beaten them before.  Thus, they may have been overlooking us, as we've never played them before, and therefore had no history with them, good or bad.  Anyway, we came out ready to play, and took early leads of 10-3, and 19-12.  They staged a comeback, and came within 4 at 20-16, but would get no closer than that as we took the first set 25-19.  We scored 15 kills in that first set, hitting .248 behind 5 kills by Becca, 4 by Eliana and Isabel, and tough serving runs by Emily, Claire, Becca and Hannah.

Set two was more of the same as we took the early leads of 10-4, 19-8, and 23-9.  They staged a comeback scoring 9 of the last 11 points before we could claim the 2nd set 25-18.  The 3rd (and final) set was back and forth the whole way up to a 19-19 tie, featuring 10 tied scores in there.    We took the lead 23-20 behind three kills from Becca and an ace from Hannah.  They scored twice more, but Becca planted a kill straight to the floor, and Mel finished them off with a solo block to take the match in straight sets.

We then had time to watch the ends of the other matches going on as both Tufts and Williams ended up in 5 set matches vs. MIT and Wellesley, respectively.  And, we had time to eat, relax, and even sleep and foam roll...

Wellesley came into the weekend having had a slower start to their season then usual, but playing well as of late.  They lost to Tufts on Friday night, but beat Williams in 5 before break for lunch.  After lunch, I'm not sure we fully regrouped.  We looked a little lethargic, and had trouble sustaining any momentum from earlier in the day when we'd played very well.  We seemed a step slow in receive, and also lagged a bit in receive and hustle plays.  We lost the first set 25-22 even with our 15 kills hitting .333.  Their 11 kills came with only 1 error, and 6 receiving errors by us kept it a very close set.  Emily scored three of her four aces in the first set, and Gabi's kill brought us to a 22-22 tie, but it wasn't quite enough as two hitting errors and a kill from them gave the first set to Wellesley.  Set two belonged to us behind some good serving again from Emily and Claire, and Wellesley was out of system and making errors, and we cruised to a 25-17 victory.

That victory was short-lived, however, as the third set saw us find every different way to make an error. Several different people had receiving and ball-handling errors, adding up to a deficit of 8-18.  Gabi got a kill, and then an ace before she served a total of 6 times to bring us to within 4 at 14-18.  We traded points a bit, but couldn't quite get back tied as we lost the 3rd set 19-25.  At least we got some momentum back after clawing our way back into that set.  The 4th set was back and forth again up to a 17-17 tie.  They pushed a lead to 18-22 before back to back kills by Charlotte and Melanie, followed by an ace by Sarah put us within 1 at 21-22.  The match finished out on errors by both teams, capped off with the final of her match high 20 kills by their MH that gave us fits all match.  Their 18 kills in the fourth set was too much for our defense to handle, so despite hitting .250 for the match, our defense couldn't stop their offense enough for the win.

We're back at home next weekend for our final NESCAC matches of the regular season with Conn at 8pm on Friday night, followed by Tufts on Saturday at 2 pm.  We're definitely in the tournament, it's just a matter of seeding now as we definitely have the toughest schedule left of teams to play, so at least our destiny is somewhat in our own hands at this point.  We'll prepare all week and look forward to the NESCAC challenge on Halloween weekend!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

MIDD Picks Up Two More Wins in Maine

It wasn't easy, but we came away from Maine with two more Wins, which puts us in a four-way tie for 2nd in NESCAC at the moment.  We stopped at a rest area once into Maine to stretch our legs a bit, so I took a picture of the fake moose, just for fun.  Moose = Maine?!  (We actually saw a moose on the side of the road years ago on our way over the mountains in VT going to Norwich, but that's the only time we've seen one in recent years.)

Colby proved to be a very tough contender and they had a large Friday night crowd there at the beginning, which was a fun atmosphere to play in, even when they're not cheering for you.  We got off to a rough start, and things just weren't smooth and clicking for us.  After dropping the first set, we clawed our way into a two point victory in set two before entering the third set tied at 1-1.  The game teetered back and forth up to a 14-14 tie when Isabel went back to serve and served a total of 10 times taking us to set point.  Colby fought off three points, but then succumbed, and we won the third set 25-16, and took a 2-1 lead in the match. 

We seemed to have found some sort of rhythm, or at least we thought maybe we had, but Colby turned around and took the fourth set from start to finish to force the decisive 5th set.  We started strong and raced out to a 6-1 lead, and eventually a 14-8 lead before Colby again mounted a fight and took three straight points sitting at match point before we notched the final point for the 15-11 win.

The next day was an easy trip down to Bates for our second match of the weekend.  Most of the team hadn't been to either of these Maine schools, so that was fun.  Some of the team was intrigued with the stuffed Bobcat at Bates and posed for a picture before the match! 

We struggled to get going again a little by only hitting .146 in the first set, but managed to get out to a 22-13 lead before Bates made a late run.  We proved to have enough to overpower the Bates squad and we took the first set 25-19.  However, Bates showed it had some fight in them and they completely dominated the 2nd set.  We scored the first point, and never lead after that as Bates jumped out to leads of 4-1, and 19-10 before closing out the second set with a 25-14 win.  It was one of the few, and possibly the only set where we hit a -.065 hitting for the set.  Tough to win doing that.

The last two sets belonged to us, however, as we finally found our stride.  We jumped out to a 7-0 lead behind two kills apiece from Melanie and Eliana and never looked back.  Melanie powered out 4 kills in that set to go with 3 from Eliana, Sarah and Becca as we easily took the set 25-14.  The final set was back and forth and even saw us get behind early by a score of 4-7, and 6-8 before we scored 8 unanswered points to take a commanding 14-8 lead that swelled to 21-12.  Becca exploded for 5 of her 6 kills in the set during that 8 point run stretch and put the match out of reach for a defeated Bates team that just seemed to run out of steam.  We hit a blistering .357 compared to their .114 in the final set to close out the win, and the Maine Sweep!

Now, we're headed to MIT to take on some non-Conference foes from the NEWMAC Conference.  It should be a fun weekend as we get to battle some tough New England teams that are not NESCAC in this dual Conference showdown.  We actually get to root for our NESCAC rivals as it's sort of a Conference vs Conference match-up.  AND, it's Fall Break, so hopefully people will get a little stress relief with a day off from class.  Fun times!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

MIDD Splits with the Purple Schools at Home

Well, it was a big weekend at MIDD for us.  Not only was it our new President's Inauguration, but we were hosting both Purples Schools (Amherst on Friday night, and Williams on Saturday afternoon), and we were celebrating our MCVB Family Weekend.  So, to get the party started, Meg texted me a picture of her at the Burlington Airport with Hannah's parents.  Meg was just getting back from two weeks of Admissions travel, and ran into Andy and Boyd flying in for parents' weekend! 

Then, the real action began.  On Friday night, we started out well, and played back and forth with Amherst for the beginning of the first set until we blew open a 10 point lead to go up 18-8, and 22-14 before they made a late run to close the gap to 23-19.  A kill by Hannah and one by Becca closed out the first set win at 25-20.  The second set was again very close, but this time, it was back and forth the whole time, featuring 11 ties right up to 19-19, but we seemed to be playing catch up more this time, as we'd fall behind by a couple points, and then come back.  We had our last lead at 19-18, before they went on a final run to set point at 19-24 and we finished out dropping the second set 21-25.  We knew going in that these NESCAC matches would be decided by a very narrow margin, so we were up for the battle.

The third set saw us build up a lead relatively early, going up 12-7, and 18-12.  Again both teams had their runs, but we wouldn't give up much ground as even with their runs closing the gap to within four points, they never got closer than that and we finished it out at 25-17.  The fourth set saw us go up again early for a 6-1 lead out of the gates, but as had become the mainstay, Amherst came on with a run of their own to tie the game at 12-12.  They were playing catch-up this time as we'd go up by a few points, and then they'd come back.  We even got to three match points at 24-21 before they made another last push and tied the game.  We traded points before a kill by each of our OH's put the match in the books as a W when Isabel got a kill, followed by Becca's kill for the game winner!   

Our hitting % for the game was .259, and we had three people with double digit digs:  Emily with 23, Charlotte with 18, and Becca with 15.  Mel again led all players with 6 block assists.  Hannah had a match high 5 service aces to go with her 5 kills, and 3 block assists for a very well rounded game, as did Becca with a double-double of 20 kills and 15 digs.  

There were many great moments, really, but a couple of highlights were Hannah's overpass kill with authority, and Isabel's hitting %.  Isabel hit a team high of .432 with 19 kills and only 3 errors on 37 swings.  After Becca's 20 kills and Isabel's 19, Eliana came through with the next most kills at 8 with a .263 hitting %.  Amherst had been the #2 ranked team in the New England Region coming into the weekend, and we knew we matched up well with them, but we hadn't really been tested, so it was really good to see how we could play with a well-respected and highly ranked team.

The next afternoon we took on Williams at 2pm. We got off to a pretty slow start for whatever reason.  It was back and forth early on as we were tied at 10-10, but then Williams opened up a lead of 13-19 and it looked somewhat grim.  We fought back in it, however, and clawed back to 18-21, and 21-23 before dropping the last two points on a Williams kill and an error by us to lose that first set.  The second set saw us get behind early, and once again claw our way back, but 18-23 was as close as we would get and we dropped that set 18-25 and now faced being down 0-2 in sets. 

We made some personnel changes, and kept fighting back, and got out to a 14-8 and 18-12 lead before a late run by Williams eventually tied the game at 20-20.  From that point on, we literally traded points being tied at every point until at 25-25, although we had gone up set point every single time.  Finally, a kill by Alice, followed by a kill by Isabel gave us the set win, and kept us in the game!  The fourth set was all us, as we got out to a lead pretty early, and hung on to it this time to take the fourth set 25-18, and we forced a deciding 5th set! 

The fifth set saw us start out slowly, and get behind early by a few points, but again we fought back to tie it at 10.  Three quick kills by them forced us to call a timeout, followed by two kills by Becca to bring us within one point at 12-13, but it wasn't enough to put us over the top, and we lost 12-15.  It was a very hard fought match, with many ties and many runs by both sides. 

I was very proud of the team for the way that we fought back after being down two sets, and we just kept fighting.  We showed poise not only in fighting back into it, but also getting a lead in that third set, and then blowing it, yet still showing enough composure to close out the win and extend the match.  Overall, our hitting % was .248, and we had 7 more kills than they did for the match, but we had more errors in every category except Receiving Errors, and we tied them with 8 service errors.  Otherwise, we had more hitting errors, more blocking errors, and more ball handling errors.  I think the main takeaway for us was that we can definitely play with anyone, and if and when we see them again, we'll be that much more prepared for their pace of play.

After the match, the team and all the families went to Flatbread to celebrate our Family Weekend, and it was a great event.  Thank you to Melanie's mom for organizing, and to all the parents for making the trek out here from all over the country!  Almost everyone had at least one parent, and everyone adopted Rose, whose father had just been out the week before to watch us play down in CT. 

When the NESCAC weekly report came out, we were well positioned in almost every category, so we're really working on keeping strong with our fundamentals and keep moving forward with our goals.  We're sitting atop the league in Hitting % & Kills, and third in Assists, Blocks, and Service Aces.  Individually, Melanie is the league leader in blocks, and 2nd in hitting %.  Hannah is second in Assists and 5th in service aces, and both Becca and Isabel are in the top 10 in Kills with Becca 2nd, and Isabel 8th.  Gabi rounds out the individual honors by placing 10th in the league in Hitting %, so congrats to all for posting those stats.

We try not to place too much emphasis on stats, but they can definitely be a useful tool for evaluation, and affirmation at times, so it's nice to see people recognized for their statistical contributions.  We all recognize, however, that it's ALL ABOUT THE TEAM, and while it's nice to get the individual recognition, it's really the team stats that we're focusing on, so it's great to see MIDD near the top in several categories.

Now, we're on to preparing for Colby and Bates, and our trek over to Maine.  It doesn't even seem all that bad since it took us almost 8 hours to get to Hamilton, and 6 to get to Trinity, so the trip which should take about 6+ hours, we're leaving almost 7 to get there, so hopefully we won't run into any travel troubles this time!

Friday, October 9, 2015

MIDD Gets Two More NESCAC Wins in CT, and Final Mid-Week Match in Straight Sets

We seem to be having some travel issues this Fall, as we arrived a little later than we would have liked down in Hartford for our Trinity match.  At one point, as we were "touring" campus, we actually stopped and let out a few players that needed to get to the training room because we could see where we needed to be, but couldn't actually find the way to drive there.  Since it was lightly raining, the rest of us decided to stay with our driver and attempt to find the actual entrance to the gym, but we sent the other heading out across a turf field to the gym waiting beyond.  Eventually, we made it, and for most teams, it was still fine timing-wise, but since we like to arrive places very early, we felt a little behind schedule.

No matter, game time comes when it comes, and we were ready!  We were also celebrating Athlete Ally Week, so we wore our new Ally Tees to warm up in for both matches this weekend.  For those that aren't aware of the organization "Athlete Ally", it's mission is to make athletics a safe and welcoming space for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.  We're hoping to raise awareness of this issue by supporting the cause and wearing our tee shirts proudly and around campus and the community to celebrate Ally Week this week, and every week.

We cruised to an easy victory in set one, and slowed down a bit in set two, but after playing back and forth for a bit, we opened up a wide margin to win 25-19 in the 2nd.  Heading into the 3rd set, however, we couldn't seem to put them away.  Trinity was very scrappy and kept many balls alive that we thought were down, and they started putting the ball down past our defense, and we found ourselves down 22-23.  Three points later, we emerged victorious in straight sets--a block by Becca/Mel, sandwiched between two powerful kills by Becca that both overpowered Trinity's block, coming down in front of them and the net, and the match was ours!  We hit .301 for the match, which was great to see.

The next day we traveled the short ride to Wesleyan, which allowed us time to sleep in, study some in the morning, and still make our Dunkin stop!  We traded points early with Wesleyan, being tied last at 10-10, when we pulled away to go up by 6 at 20-14.  We didn't finish cleanly, and they closed the gap to 24-22 before we notched the final point for the first set win.

Set two was very tight the whole way taking us up 21-19, and then Becca scored a kill that sent Hannah to the service line, and her first serve was an ace, and then we scored the next two points for the 2nd set victory.  The 3rd (and final) set was again back and forth to a 12-12 tie, and then we just steadily pulled away for the 25-18 set, and straight-set sweep.  Emily had a match high 23 digs, Becca led all hitters with 19 kills, and Hannah averaged over 10 assists per set.  Claire came through with a match high 4 service aces, and both Mel and Eliana had two block assists. 

It was a quick turn-around to play again on Tuesday on our home court against Skidmore.  We came out strong and took a 5-1 lead and never looked back as we took the first set 25-17.  The 2nd set, however, proved to be quite a different story, even after starting out in a similar fashion.  We jumped out to a 6-0 lead, only to see them come storming back trading points, and then going on a 5-0 run themselves to take a slim lead at 13-14.  We traded points again, and both teams would take a slim lead, only to see it shift back again.  They finally went up 22-24 as we faced two set points against, but Charlotte came through with a kill from the back row, sending Becca to the service line, where she would stay until the match ended.  Isabel subbed in to the front, and quickly scored a thundering kill down the line to tie the game at 24-24 before Eliana and Mel blocked their big hitter and then a well executed tip by Isabel finished off the comeback win in set 2.  The third set was all us as we got out to a 7-1 lead, and cruised on to a 25-13 win for the straight set match win again. We hit over .300 again, and both Becca had match highs for service aces, kills, and digs, while Hannah shared the service aces high with 3 also, while getting 40 assists in the match for over 13 assists per set.  Eliana and Mel shared for match highs in the blocking category, each with 3 block assists.

We now face two big Conference rivals in "The Purples" this weekend as both Amherst and Williams come to play in our gym!  We're excited about the opportunity to play two highly ranked teams in New England, and to show them and ourselves just what we're made of!  Should be a fun weekend, and it's also the weekend we're celebrating Parent's Weekend for our Team, and also the Inauguration of our new College President, Laurie Patton, so it should be a very festive, and fun weekend of MIDD action!