Volleyball Frustrated in Four Sets by Polar Bears

By Andrew Rigas

Despite a strong effort by the ladies of Middlebury volleyball in their first home game of the season, an efficient Bowdoin squad ultimately proved too much this past Friday as the Polar Bears wore down the Panthers over four sets (25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 25-18).

In a match that saw almost too many lead changes to count, Middlebury proved itself capable of competing against quality NESCAC competition, but untimely errors seemed to derail the squad’s momentum late in sets when they found themselves neck-and-neck with a Bowdoin team that more than doubled them in hitting percentage (.210 to .099).

Coach Sarah Raunecker felt that her Panthers gave Bowdoin too much freedom to dictate the flow of the game, “even though the set scores were close, we seemed to be playing catch-up most of the time,” Raunecker said. “They’d get ahead by a few points, and then we’d tie it up, only to go down a couple points again.  I felt like they were controlling the action more than we were, and we’d like to change that.”

In the first set, neither side led by more than three points until the very end. The lead was traded back and forth until the teams finding themselves knotted at 19-19, the Polar Bears took control late and separated themselves to the tune of a 6-2 closing run. The second set went similarly, but with the score tied at 17, the Panthers failed once again and fell behind 2-0 in sets.

However, Middlebury showed some mettle with a hard-fought win in the third set. Strong play from Melanie English ’17 and Eliana Schaefer ’18 helped keep the Panthers within striking distance. After capitalizing on a pair of Bowdoin mistakes to take a 23-21 lead, Middlebury went on to dispatch the Polar Bears with kills from Becca Raffel ’18 and Isabel Sessions ’19.

The Panthers found themselves once again playing from behind in the fourth set. Although they managed to overcome an early deficit to tie things up at 17-17, Bowdoin wasted no time in racing to a 25-18 victory to finish the match.

Outside hitter Alice Roberts ’18, who suffered an unlucky sprained ankle during Friday’s warm-ups, noted from the sidelines that the squad had room for improvement.

“We’re definitely still trying to find our chemistry … It’s very early in the season,” Roberts said. “We sort of had some, well, I don’t want to say easier competition early on, but this was the second game where we were really challenged, which we have to be expecting for the rest of NESCAC.”

Other notable contributors to Friday’s match were Captain Hannah Blackburn ’17, who set up 32 assists and led Middlebury with 9 digs, and Emily Kolodka ’18, who chipped in with 8 digs. Raffel paced the team with 11 kills and English contributed in a big way on defense with 8 blocks.

Middlebury straightened things out to take care of business in Saturday’s Tri-Match against Cortland St. (25-18, 25-16, 22-25, 22-25, 15-13) and Colby-Sawyer (25-10, 25-17, 25-14). Although the opposition wasn’t quite as strong as Friday’s, Raunecker was nevertheless pleased with her team’s adjustments.

“On Saturday, I think our serve receive was a little better, and our hitters were trying to make more shots and see the court … in addition to the teams not being as good as Bowdoin.”

As the season rolls on with games at Hamilton on Friday, Sept. 25 and the Skidmore classic on Saturday, Sept. 26, Raunecker had good things to say about the team’s future.

“I’m very optimistic and excited about this team moving forward,” she said. “I think we have a lot of growth potential, and as we get used to switching things up and getting comfortable with those changes, that will make us a stronger team. We’ll also continue to work on our mental toughness knowing that many matches will come down to the wire and be decided by only a couple of points, so being able to perform in the heat of the moment with confidence and composure will be a key for our success in NESCAC.”