November 8, 2010

Middlebury won its third NESCAC Championship and first since '98 with a 3-1 (25-22, 21-25, 25-21, 26-24) victory over Tufts at Amherst. The Panthers earn an automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament, improving to 24-5 on the season. The Jumbos fall to 22-10 on the year.

            Tufts advanced to the conference championship for the second straight season with wins over Connecticut College and the hosts from Amherst, while Middlebury earned a spot in the final for the first time since 1998 with wins over Trinity and Williams.

            The Jumbos jumped out to an early lead, taking a 5-0 advantage to start the first set. After a timeout from Middlebury, the Panthers rallied to tie the score at 12-12. With the momentum in Middlebury's favor, junior Jane Handel (Evanston, Ill.) put away a kill to open up a 15-12 lead for the Panthers. Middlebury never trailed again in the first set, winning 25-22 on another Handel kill.

            The second set started with the two sides splitting the first ten points. Tufts mounted a four point scoring run capped by a block of Middlebury junior Elissa Goeke (Chevy Chase, Md.) by Lexi Nicholas and Nancy Shrodes. The Jumbos held off a comeback effort in the second from Middlebury, winning 25-21 to tie the set score at 1-1.

            In the third frame, Tufts held a lead as late as 14-12, but the Panthers turned the tables for an 18-16 lead. Middlebury held its advantage at 23-20, before closing out the frame 25-22 to move within a set of the championship.

            Tufts was the first to 10 points in the fourth and final frame, but a sophomore Julia Gibbs (Houston, Texas) kill tied the score 10-10. Tufts pulled away for a 21-17 lead, and looked as though it would tie the match back up. Middlebury was resilient though, taking a 24-23 lead after a handful of long rallies late. Tufts responded with a kill from Caitlin Updike to tie the score 24-24. After a Handel kill set up match point for Middlebury, a Tufts player was called for touching the net on a hitting attempt, giving the Panthers the title.

            Middlebury was led by 17 kills from first-year player Megan Jarchow (Cos Cob, Conn.) and 13 kills from Handel. Sophomore Caitlin Barrett (Medfield, Mass.) had 47 digs for the Panthers, while senior Lauren Barrett (Medfield, Mass.) had 44 assists. Jarchow had 28 digs in the win, while Gibbs had 21 digs and 11 kills on the day.

            Middlebury advanced to the NESCAC Championship match with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-22) win over Williams.

            In the first set, Williams erased a Middlebury lead to close the gap to 15-14 on a monster kill by Nicole Ballon-Landa, before tying the score on the next point. The score was tied still at 17-17, before Middlebury took the first frame with a 25-22 result.

            In the second set, Williams jumped out to a 10-7 lead on back-to-back kills from Kate Anderson and Haley Eagon. The Panthers responded with three straight points to knot the score up at 10-10. Middlebury gained some breathing room at 17-15, before pulling away for a 25-19 result.

            In the final stanza, Middlebury burst out to a 5-0 lead, before Williams answered back to tie the score at 6-6. Williams briefly held a 14-11 lead, before opening up a five-point advantage at 18-13 to force Middlebury into a timeout. The Panthers responded, closing the deficit to 19-18 and forcing the Ephs into calling their final timeout. The game was tied as late as 21-21, but Middlebury escaped with the 25-22 win.

            The Panthers were led by 14 kills from Handel and 13 kills from Gibbs. L. Barrett dished out 39 assists in the win, adding a team-high 10 digs for Middlebury.

            Middlebury picked up a 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-21) win over Trinity in the quarterfinals on Friday.

            Middlebury was led by 45 assists and 22 digs from L. Barrett, as well as 18 kills and 10 digs from Jarchow, who hit at an impressive .680 clip for the match. Gibbs added 11 kills and three service aces, Handel finished with 10 kills and 10 digs, while senior Whitney Bean (Waukee, Iowa)  and Gibbs had three block assists apiece. 

• Women's volleyball record: 24-5
Up next: 11/12-14 @ NCAA Regional (Springfield)