Raffel Racks Up Kills, Enters Record Books

By JAKE TURTEL

With three more wins, the Middlebury volleyball team pushes their winning streak to an impressive nine games, a mark they did not even reach last year when they won the Nescac crown.

“Our team is getting better each time we step on the court,” Gigi Alper ’20. “Our winning streak is fueling our fire and gives us a lot of confidence going into another challenging home week.”

After they swept a mid-week tune-up against Colby-Sawyer, the Panthers were back in action in Nescac play last Friday, Sept. 29.

The Bates Bobcats visited Pepin and left with another loss (25–23, 25–22, 21–25, 25–22), dropping their record to 5–6 (1–2 in the conference). The match was more tightly contested than the midweek affair with four points being the largest point spread in any set.

After falling behind the Bobcats 7–3 in the first set, Middlebury fought back to tie the game at 14 after a Bobcats attack error. Neither team pulled away as the match progressed, so Isabel Sessions ’19’s kill that clinched the first game for the Panthers was clutch.

In the second set, Bates went on top early again, grabbing a 15–9 lead. However, the early hole in which the Panthers found themselves did not intimidate last week’s Nescac Player of the Week, Becca Raffel ’18, who propelled a 16–5 run for the Panthers and capped the set with a kill down the line. During this momentum-setting set, Raffel became just the fifth Panther in program history to reach the 1,000-kill plateau.

Up 2–0 in sets, the Panthers finally found themselves take an early lead, cruising to the point where they had a 12–7 lead. This time, however, it was the Bobcats who made a late run.

Bates’ 10–3 run was followed by a few attack errors that allowed Middlebury to regain the lead, 19–18, but the late-set surge was too much for the Panthers to overcome.

The fourth, and ultimately final, set was by far the closest. Neither team gained more than a two-point advantage as things were knotted up at 20–20.

Yet, having won plenty of close matches during their nine-game win streak, the Panthers were in familiar territory. The Panthers stayed characteristically cool under the pressure and notched five of the next seven points to take the set 25–22.

Raffel and Sessions paced the attack in the Bates match, as each provided 15 kills, while Gigi Alper ’20 dug 27 balls and Emma Walsh ’21, in her first Nescac action, dished out a match-high 49 assists. The Panther victory was due in large part to a dominating front line that roofed the Bobcats on numerous occasions, which Bates tried to counter by altering their strategy to rely more on dumps, but Middlebury adjusted and was unfazed.

“It was really exciting to get to play in conference games, and it was even better to play with such a great group of people,” Walsh said.

With one Maine school defeated, a second came to town to try to take down the Panthers on Saturday, Sept. 30, but also left with an L. Middlebury defeated Colby College in straight sets (25–13, 25–13, 25–15), pushing their winning streak to nine games. The Panthers thoroughly dominated the match, as Schaefer led the charge on both offense, 11 kills on 17 attempts, and defense with four block assists. After being tied at seven in the opening set, the hosts scored the next nine; important in this run was Raffel, who at one point had three consecutive kills.

The rest of the match was not close. Aside from an 8–6 Panther lead in the second set, the Mules, who hit a low .038 compared to the Panthers’ .393, were never within striking distance. Walsh contributed 32 assists and 12 digs while Emily Kolodka ’18 had 11 digs and a service ace.

Middlebury currently ranks first in the Nescac in hitting percentage (.255) and second in kills per set (12.67), while Raffel leads the conference in kills (176). Most important though is the Panthers’ standing in the Nescac: with four wins to zero losses, Middlebury sits atop the league along with fellow undefeated sides in Wesleyan and Tufts.

The Panthers will be back in action in Pepin tomorrow night at 8 p.m. when they start a pivotal homestand against Connecticut College. The premiere game of the weekend will take place in Pepin on Saturday, when Middlebury plays host to Wesleyan (12–1, 5–0), with match-time set for 2 p.m.

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Raffel Racks Up Kills, Enters Record Books