Volleyball’s Streak Sits at Six, Raffel Named Player of the Week

By JAKE TURTEL

The Panther volleyball team remained scintillatingly hot, notching a win at St. Michaels on Tuesday, Sept. 19, before sweeping the Roadrunner Invitational with victories against Farmingdale State, New York University and the hosts, Ramapo. The wins on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 22 and 23, were welcome presents for Sarah Staver ’19 and Emma Walsh ’21, who both celebrated their birthdays this past weekend.

In its midweek tune-up, Middlebury defeated in-state opponent St. Michael’s in straight sets (27–25, 25–11, 25–10). While the second two sets were never truly in doubt, the opener was a tightly contested affair with neither team gaining more than a four-point advantage. Down 24–20, the Panthers were on the verge of dropping the first set but saved four consecutive set points, capped off by a kill at the hands of Eliana Schaefer ’18. After a Becca Raffel ’18 kill and a St. Michael’s error, the first set went to the Panthers.

The second set saw a 7–7 tie before Middlebury turned up the pressure by winning nine of the next 11 points and never looking back. Beth Neal ’20 ended the set with two service aces (she finished the match with three).

The third set was knotted up at five before a 6–1 Middlebury run led to an 25–10 third set win, clinching a victory for Middlebury.

The Panthers’ victory showed up in the statistics too, from a higher hitting percentage (.400 to .050), Blocks (seven to three), Digs (38 to 34) and Aces (10 to three). Isabel Sessions paced the attack, converting 68% of her attempts into match-high 13 kills. Raffel, known more for her offense, led the squad in digs (9), while Walsh, getting her first real time filling in for the injured Chellsa Ferdinand ’20, dished out a match-high 28 assists.
Though the injury to Ferdinand is less than ideal, Schaefer said, “we aren’t letting one setback get in the way of our goals.”

In the opening match of the weekend against Farmingdale State, Middlebury was victorious: 5–11, 25–18, 23–25, 25–20.

Down 2–1 in the first set, a kill by Schaefer sizzled the net and sparked a 13–2 run that gave the Panthers a lead they would never relinquish. The second set saw an unexpected comeback by the hosts, who rallied from a 10-point deficit to cut the Middlebury lead to 21–18. Then, two Farmingdale attack errors, a Walsh kill and a Jaime Donnelly ’21 kill gave Middlebury the second set.

The Panthers had a 21–18 lead in the third set, but a smart timeout by Farmingdale allowed them to regroup and score seven of the next nine points and steal a set. The fourth set, deadlocked at 15, looked to be a nail-biter until a 7–2 Middlebury run set the stage for a victory. Walsh, the birthday girl, finished the match with a service ace.

The second day of the invitational was not much different, with the Panthers controlling most of both matches. They earned a four-set victory against NYU (25–11, 25–20, 20–25, 25–20) and a straight-set win against host Ramapo (25–22, 25–14, 25–19). In the opener, Raffel pounded a match-high 16 kills while Schaefer contributed three blocks. Walsh built off her impressive debut and contributed 38 assists in the first and another 35, while the other birthday girl, Staver, produced nine kills and a pair of service aces in the concluding match.

“We didn’t know much about the teams we played beforehand and did a nice job developing strategies as we went along,” Raffel said, pleased with the weekend’s results. “A lot of new players stepped up.”

After the weekend, Middlebury now ranks in the top-two in the Nescac in service aces (72) and kills per set (12.54) but leads the pack in hitting percentage (.249). Raffel leads the Nescac in kills (145), while both Staver and Schaefer place in the top five in hitting percentage (.350 and .318), respectively.

Middlebury returns to Pepin Gymnasium when it plays host to Nescac opponents Bates and Colby on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30.

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