November 14, 2011

The Middlebury College women’s volleyball team saw its season come to an end with a 3-1 (21-25, 25-22, 27-25, 25-18) loss to Cortland State (42-1) in an NCAA Regional final at Clarkson. The Panthers finish the season with a 23-9 mark, advancing deeper into the NCAA Tournament than any team in school history.

With the match knotted up at one set apiece and trailing by five points midway through the third set, Cortland rattled off eight straight points to change the outlook of the match, and the Red Dragons completed their comeback in extra time to win the pivotal third set.

In the first set, Middlebury came out with a strong hitting attack while Cortland's defense seemed ill-prepared for the multiple options that the Panthers possessed. Finding a rhythm shortly thereafter, the Red Dragons closed the gap to three points in the early going, but Middlebury hung tough and continued to get kills, led by sophomore Megan Jarchow (Cos Cob, Conn.), who produced six kills and only one error on seven swings in the first set.

During the second set, neither team could get much of an advantage as the teams traded points back and forth. Cortland had a pair of three-point leads, including a 20-17 edge that forced a Middlebury timeout. The Panthers came back with three straight scores to tie the game at 20-20, and the two teams were still tied at 22 when Ashley Coyle delivered back-to-back kills to give Cortland a lead it would not relinquish. Sheena Asibey closed out the set with a block to tie the match up at 1-1.

            In the pivotal third set, it appeared as if Middlebury would pick up some momentum and put Cortland on the brink of elimination, leading 10-5 and pushing Cortland into a timeout. After the team traded points to make the score 11-6, Cortland streaked for eight straight points to take a 14-11 lead and never lost the lead again. Junior Julia Gibbs (Houston, Texas) of Middlebury put a scare into the Red Dragons with consecutive aces to cut the gap to two late, but Cortland responded to take a three-point edge, 23-20. However, the Panthers scored three straight points to tie the score once again, and the two teams needed extra time when they exchanged the next four points. Ashley Coyle delivered yet another kill and Aubrey Barrett continued her outstanding tournament performance with a kill to close out the set, which Cortland won, 27-25.

            The fourth set was tight as well with the Red Dragons up by just a single point, 15-14, following a kill from Middlebury sophomore Amy Hart (Kenilworth, Ill.). But once again, Cortland went on a streak of seven straight points thanks to three straight blocks from Aubrey Barrett, giving the Red Dragons a 22-14 lead. Though the Panthers scored a handful of points to keep the set going, the early celebration began on the Cortland bench and pushed on to the court after a kill from middle hitter Kaitlyn Cooper gave Cortland the 25-18 victory.

            For Middlebury, Hart, Jarchow, and Gibbs were each named to the All-Regional Team. Hart hit .433 in the match with 16 kills and just three errors in 30 swings while Jarchow had 17 kills and a .316 hitting percentage. Gibbs produced 52 assists and five aces and junior Caitlin Barrett (Medfield, Mass.) had 16 digs for the Panthers. Senior Jane Handel (Evanston, Ill.) also had 15 kills and 15 digs, but was forced into 13 errors against Cortland's block.

With a strong attack coming from all angles, Middlebury hit .297 in its NCAA New York Regional semifinal match against Skidmore College, and swept the Thoroughbreds in three sets, 25-21, 25-16, 25-23, Saturday afternoon at Clarkson University’s Alumni Gymnasium.

In the first set, the two teams essentially traded points through the first half of the game, with neither gaining much of a foothold for a significant advantage. Finally, Middlebury broke out late and took a three-point edge, 18-15, to force a Skidmore timeout. However, the Thoroughbreds couldn’t complete a comeback and fell 25-21 in the first set.

The second set saw Middlebury at its most potent offensively, as the Panthers struck for 16 kills and only four errors in 31 swings (.387) including an impressive stretch from Jarchow and Handel which changed the shape of the set as the Panthers cruised to a nine-point win. A topsy-turvy third set made it appear as if the match would need to go beyond the minimum, but late in the set a block of Kelley Vershbow on the outside dropped to the floor and ended the match as Skidmore tried to push to extra points.

            Jarchow led Middlebury with 15 kills and just three errors in 28 swings, hitting .429. She was bested by Hart, who had 13 kills in comparison, but hit .455 overall. Handel had 14 kills and only three errors in 34 attempts. Gibbs delivered 38 assists and also added four block assists. Handel and Barrett each had 10 digs for the Panthers. Middlebury had 10 total blocks in the game, led by junior Madeline Firestone (Solvang, Calif.), who had five block assists, and senior Elissa Goeke (Chevy Chase, Md.), who contributed one solo block and four assists.

With 10 kills each from Jarchow and Handel, Middlebury rallied from an early deficit in the first set and then closed out Colby-Sawyer College in three straight sets, 25-23, 25-21, 25-11, in the first round of the NCAA New York Regionals Friday afternoon.

The Chargers took a modest advantage in the first set and appeared ready to close out the opener, but Middlebury’s offense came alive to claim a two-point advantage. The Panthers took that late shift into the second set, but still had to battle it out against the Chargers as neither team posted a consistent offense. The Chargers had 13 kills in the second set, but added eight errors to the tally while Middlebury was a little better with 12 kills against six errors.

Despite the close quarters in the first two sets, Middlebury asserted itself in all facets to close out the match handily. The Panthers had a double-digit advantage early and were able to hold off Colby-Sawyer, peppering in aces and an assortment of kills to conclude the match.

The Panthers had eight aces in the match, with two coming from Gibbs and Handel and four more coming from four other servers. Besides Handel’s and Jarchow’s contributions, Hart came through with eight kills. Gibbs ran the offense with 33 assists and added in seven digs, while Barrett produced better than six digs per set with a total of 19 for the Panthers.

• Women’s volleyball final record: 23-9