Volleyball Drops Two in Maine, Falling to Fifth in NESCAC

By JAKE TURTEL

The Panther volleyball team played faced a tough slate of matches last Friday and Saturday that saw the team drop a pair of Nescac games to Tufts and Bowdoin before prevailing over The University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI). The Panthers (14–5, 5–3) now sit at fifth in the conference but still have to play Williams and Hamilton, the teams sandwiching them in the standings.

On Friday, Middlebury travelled to Tufts in what was a rematch of last season’s conference tournament final where the Panthers triumphed over the heavily favored Jumbos. Once again, the two teams played a tightly contested match but the Panthers ended up losing in four sets (19–25, 25–15, 21–25, 23–25).

In the opening set, the Jumbos started with a 7–3 run but lost the lead during a 5–3 run by the Panthers which concluded with two Becca Raffel ’18 kills. Tufts, however, regained the lead and never looked back, taking the opening set.

In the second, however, Middlebury controlled the tempo. A Tufts attack error and two Elana Schaefer ’18 kills gave the Panthers a quick 2–0 lead. Later, after being down 15–10, Tufts climbed back in the game, bringing the score to 16–13. Middlebury, capitalizing on numerous service and attack errors by the Jumbos, went on a 9–2 run taking the set to even the match at one game apiece.

In the ensuing set the Jumbos once again started hot, this time jumping out to a 7–3 lead. However, the Panthers fought back to bring the match to within one point and for the remainder of the set Tufts never led by more than two—that is, until Middlebury seized the lead, 19–18, and the hosts scored the next six points capped off by a Middlebury service error.

What proved to be the ultimate set once again fell into a similar pattern. The Panthers took a 2–0 lead on two Tufts attack errors. After a Jumbos point, Middlebury extended the lead to 4–1 on two more Tufts attack errors but the Jumbos were able to knot the match at 8 and, thereafter, the teams largely traded points—there were seven lead changes and 11 ties. The Panthers simply did not have enough in the tank and ended up losing the final two points after the set was tied at 23.

There were bright spots though for the Panthers. Alice Roberts ’18 tallied a season-high 12 kills while Middlebury had more service aces than Tufts (Raffel had two while Gigi Alper ’20, Emma Walsh ’21 and Shea Golden ’21 each notched one). Golden also contributed 11 digs while Alper led the team with 17.

Continuing their road-trip, the squad drove two hours to Brunswick, Maine, where they split a doubleheader against the Polar Bears and UMPI. Middlebury lost the Nescac matchup in straight sets (21–25, 17–25, 22–25) but managed to turn around and absolutely smoke non-conference UMPI in straight sets (25–6, 25–15, 25–18).

Middlebury never found their groove against Bowdoin, a team that has given the Panthers trouble over the last few years. On the bright side, Raffel continued to dominate the competition with 11 kills and 16 digs. Alper managed to finish with a match-high 23 digs.

Following the Nescac losses, Schaefer believes the team needs to continue to compete. While a losing streak can be tough to overcome, her team needs to push themselves.
“We need to step up our game in order to set ourselves up to be in the best position possible for Nescacs,” said Schaefer.

UMPI, however, did not provide a challenge for the Panthers, who easily shook off their losing streak. The Panthers held UMPI to .091 hitting percentage and a single block, while Middlebury saw .355 and seven blocks. Golden led the match in service aces (4), Sessions in kills (10), and Ferdinand in assists (27).

“We are looking forward to regrouping and using this weekend’s non-conference competition to prepare for our final league games of the season,” Alper said.

This weekend’s New England Challenge will be an excellent opportunity to right the ship and prepare for their final weekend of Nescac play for the Panthers. With only two weeks remaining before the postseason, the Panthers look to get back their competitive fire that led them to the 10-game win streak that they were in the middle of just a week ago.

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Volleyball Drops Two in Maine, Falling to Fifth in NESCAC