2–0 Set Lead Slips from Volleyball’s Grasp as Panthers Fall to Polar Bears

By JAKE TURTEL

In the Nescac tournament this past weekend, the volleyball team fell in the first round to Bowdoin 3–2 (25–22, 25–18, 17–25, 25–27, 10–15) on Friday, Nov. 3. The match at Tufts, a neutral site, was close throughout, marking a heartbreaking end to the Panther’s season.

With a 9–8 lead in the opening set, the Panthers strung together a 4–0 run that included a pair of kills from Eliana Schaefer ’18. Their lead ballooned to as great as six, 17–11, before the Polar Bears clawed their way back to a three point-deficit. Middlebury countered, using three kills by Sarah Staver ’19 to put together a 6–1 run and take a commanding 23–15 lead. Bowdoin surged back, winning the next five points before a Becca Raffel ’18 kill stopped the run. Emily Kolodka ‘18 ended the set moments later with a kill of her own to seal the set for Middlebury.

In the second set the Panthers again used a 4-0 run to give themselves a lead 12–7 behind two kills from Isabel Sessions ’19. Bowdoin returned fire to, once again, bring themselves to within three, but a block by Alice Roberts ’18 put the Panthers back up by four. Middlebury won five of the next seven points to achieve a two-set lead. In the set, they limited the Polar Bears to a hitting percentage below .200 while hitting .400 themselves.

In the third set, at an 8–8 tie, Bowdoin went on a run to go ahead 16–10. Sessions used a kill to bring the Panthers to within five at 18–13, but the Polar Bears retaliated by winning the next six points, eventually taking the third set.

In the fourth, Middlebury jumped out to a quick 5–1 lead but was on the wrong end of a 10-2 streak and went down 11–7. The rest of the set was a back and forth affair, seeing ties at 14 apiece, 15, 16, 21, and 24. Down to set point at 24–25, Emma Walsh ’21 recorded a kill to extend the set, but Bowdoin won the next two points to even the match. Bowdoin went ahead in the final set after a 6–1 run to put them up 9–4. Middlebury was unable to recover, as the Polar Bears took the final set 15–10 and the match as well.

Sessions led the attack with 17 kills, while Raffel (11) and Staver (10) also had double-digit kills. Walsh paced the Panthers with 39 assists and added 10 digs while Alper secured a team-high 16 digs.

Sessions had a career year, demolishing her season-high of kills, 273 in 2016, with 304 this year. Walsh made a splash in her first year with 512 assists, and her 9.48 assists per set ranked third in the Nescac. Another first-year, Shea Golden ’21, ranked in the top five in the conference in service aces per set with 0.43. Staver contributed 78 blocks on the season to lead the team with Schaefer just behind with 76.

Seniors Raffel, Kolodka, Roberts, and Schaefer finish their four year careers with a 64–37 record and one Nescac championship in 2016. Raffel ends her career fifth place all-time on the Panther kill leaderboard with 1,163 over her four years.

Although the season did not end as hoped, Raffel has nothing but good memories of her career, “The past four years have been an incredible experience playing for MCVB and I’m excited to see what the team accomplishes in the future.”

Roberts finishes with 473 kills while Kolodka leaves with 1,163 career digs to place her ninth in program history. Schaefer capped off her career with a career-season and totaled 449 kills and 162 assists in her time in a Panther uniform.

“The seniors have contributed in every way this season, fostering a family like dynamic that is evident on and off the court,” said Alper about her departing teammates. “We will miss the four seniors immensely next year but we are so excited to see what they will accomplish next. We are fueled to take back the NESCAC title in their honor.”

Coach Sarah Raunecker said the seniors were “the backbone of the team. All four were starters and major contributors to the box score, but on top of that, they were great teammates.”

While their contributions on the court cannot be understated, their attributes off it were just as impressive.

“I’m so proud of them,” said Raunecker. “I think it’s says a lot about the respect they’ve garnered over their careers that all four were selected for the NEWVA Senior Classic honoring the top seniors in New England. We will have some big holes to fill next year, both offensively and defensively. I’m really going to miss them.”

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