2-1 Weekend for Panther Volleyball

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2-1 Weekend for Panther Volleyball

Piper Underbrink ’15 and the Panthers won a pair of matches this weekend.

Piper Underbrink ’15 and the Panthers won a pair of matches this weekend.

Piper Underbrink ’15 and the Panthers won a pair of matches this weekend.

Piper Underbrink ’15 and the Panthers won a pair of matches this weekend.

By Fritz Parker

After falling to Hamilton in a NESCAC matchup on Friday, Sept. 26, the Middlebury volleyball team bounced back to win a pair of matches in the Skidmore Classic on Saturday, defeating St. John Fisher and Skidmore each in straight sets.

The Panthers entered the match against Hamilton with newfound momentum after defeating Bates 3-0 in their NESCAC season opener. The Continentals, meanwhile, had jumped out to a fast 8-3 start to the season, including a win in their sole conference match.

The first set of the Hamilton match was tight from the opening serve, with both teams failing to hold on to leads. After falling behind early, Middlebury took the lead at 16-15 on a kill from Piper Underbrink ’15 before three consecutive Hamilton points gave the lead back to the Continentals. A kill from Olivia Kolodka ’15 brought the Panthers within a single point of winning the set at 24-23, but Hamilton snatched it away with three points of their own to take the set 26-24.

The second set was another tough loss for Middlebury. The Panthers stretched their early lead to 17-13 midway through the set on a kill from middle hitter Melanie English ’17 before the Continentals went on a run to take the lead for themselves. After drawing within one on a kill from Olivia Kolodka, the Panthers were unable to cap the comeback and fell 25-23.

The third set was all Middlebury. Hannah Blackburn ’17 recorded a pair of consecutive service aces to key a six-point streak for the Panthers. A kill by Olivia Kolodka, with an assist from Blackburn, finished off the set for Middlebury with a 25-12 win. 

Looking to even the match at two sets apiece in the fourth set, however, Middlebury squandered a six-point lead by ceding 11 straight points to Hamilton. Despite offensive contributions from Olivia Kolodka, Emily Kolodka ’18 and outside hitter Charlotte Devine ’17, Middlebury went on to lose the match with a 25-19 loss in the set.

Olivia Kolodka led the Middlebury attack against Hamilton with 13 kills, while Emily Kolodka added 11 of her own. The Panthers fell in four sets despite earning just one fewer point than the Continentals, with the close losses in the first and second sets creating a hole out of which Middlebury could not dig themselves.

Saturday’s Skidmore Classic opener against St. John Fisher would be a different story, with Middlebury consistently outplaying their opponent to win in consecutive sets.

The Kolodka sisters again starred for the Panthers against St. John Fisher, with each contributing nine kills while Underbrink added seven of her own. Blackburn recorded 27 assists against just one error, while captain Lizzy Reed ’15 led the team with 17 digs. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were plagued by attack errors as they were unable to weather the heat from an aggressive Middlebury squad.

The weekend finale against host Skidmore was another win for Middlebury, with the Panthers sandwiching nearly flawless first and third sets around a gritty second-set win to beat the host Thoroughbreds 3-0.

In the first set, the Panthers registered 13 kills against just four errors on 40 total attempts for an impressive .225 kill percentage. Emily Kolodka took center stage for Middlebury in that set and would finish the match with 13 kills to lead all players.

The second set was not as dominant for Middlebury. The Panthers fell behind 23-21 on a Skidmore service ace, but were able to rally around Blackburn’s strong serving to take the set 25-23. Middlebury regained their form from the first set in the third, however, and outplayed the host team throughout en route to a 25-16 win.

First-year outside hitter Becca Raffel ’18 played a significant role in the Panthers’ win over Skidmore with nine kills. Underbrink and Emily Kolodka combined for 22 more to pace Middlebury against the Thoroughbreds, while Blackburn’s table-setting game again stood out.

With a 2-1 record on the weekend, the Panthers improve their season record to 4-5 overall and 1-1 in conference play. Their ability to play tough with Hamilton – who currently occupies the second spot in the NESCAC standings – bodes well for the Panthers’ season prospects as they look to improve their record going forward and solidify a spot in the NESCAC postseason. 

Middlebury resumes its conference slate this weekend, Oct. 3 and 4, with a pair of road matchups against conference frontrunners Amherst and Williams.

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