New London, CT-- New NESCAC Volleyball scheduling rules adopted this year eliminating neutral site conference matches served up a tantalizing matchup this Friday between the visiting Ephs and the host Camels of Connecticut College in the conference opener for both squads. While Williams has traveled to Conn in the previous two years the enviable matchup, coupled with the hot 5-0 start enjoyed by the Camels, meant that there was a large and boisterous crowd on hand to see the Ephs grind out a hard 3-1 (25-21, 12-25, 25-22, 25-20) victory to give them their first win over the Camels since 2009. With the victory Williams moves to 5-1 on the year and is undefeated in the conference while Conn registers their first loss of the year, leaving them also at 5-1 (0-1 in NESCAC).
Head Coach Christi Kelsey was proud of the way her team was able to pick up their first conference win "Conn is a great team, so this is definitely a good first win in the conference to start our year, but it is only one win…Every night's a battle, there are no easy weekends in the NESCAC. We get to celebrate this win for a little while but now our focus shifts to tomorrow and our match against Wesleyan."
Both teams were eager at the outset of the match to get the conference season underway, hustling the pace in a breathtaking flurry of points that saw Williams eke out a 7-6 lead before Conn would flip the score up 8-7. The Ephs would tie the score at 12-12 with an ace by first year setter Ryan Farley. Farley, rising to the occasion in her NESCAC debut, would ably direct the Williams offense on the evening, giving out 36 assists to her teammates. The Camels would not go down with out a fight, however, tying the set at 17-17 before pushing to a 20-17 lead. The Ephs would rally to knot the score at 21 all, and tough serving by junior co-captain Emily Doll would open up a two-point cushion 23-21. A massive kill by first year Catherine Egan would bring the score to 24-21 before an ace by Doll ended things for good, giving Williams a 1-0 set lead.
In set two the Ephs looked to keep the momentum going, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Conn, however, sensing the urgency of the moment, began ripping off tough serves to open up a strong early lead 11-4. The rest of the set became one to forget for Williams as they struggled to unlock the secret to Conn's serving. To their credit the Camels never took their foot off the gas, closing the set out with authority 25-12 to even the set score at one apiece.
In set three Williams once again found themselves in an early deficit, down two points for most of the early going. The Camels then broke out for a three point cushion up 14-11. Junior outside hitter Emily Baratta would serve the Ephs back into things to 15-15, while Farley took things to 19-17. With the result of the set still in doubt, first year Katherine Lane entered the match at a crucial moment to register a thundering kill in transition that set up a Williams set point at 24-22. Back on their heels, Conn was unable to rally and conceded a 25-22 loss to the Ephs.
Entering into the fourth set both teams possessed the opportunity to come out of the match with a crucial conference win. Conn College, feeling their backs up against a wall, took the early lead at 8-6 before back to back aces by sophomore libero Emily O'Day gave the Ephs a one point lead at 9-8. Sophomore defensive specialist Amanda Schott then stepped back to the line to serve the Ephs up 15-9. The Camels once again responded to the pressure, clawing their way back into the match to tie the score at 15-15. A monster kill by Egan momentarily regained momentum for the Ephs, pushing them up by two 18-16, although once again Conn would rally to tie the score at 19-19. Katherine Lane then began to assert her presence even more forcefully in the front row, registering a huge block at 22-20 that finally swung momentum over to the Ephs. Another Doll ace made it 23-20 while a further block by Lane set up match point for the Ephs 24-22. The match would end on a hitting error by Conn, but there were no complaints from the Williams bench as they celebrated a hard fought and well-earned victory.
The Williams victory was in every sense of the word a "team victory," with the collective efforts of the group greatly outshining any individual performance. Five Williams players registered at least five kills, with Emily Doll and Catherine Egan both leading the way with eight. Katherine Lane, in addition to pitching in with six kills would lead the team in hitting percentage, committing only one error in 10 attempts for a stellar .500 attack average. Head Coach Christi Kelsey was quick to note the way in which an improved team defensive effort by the Ephs contributed strongly to the victory. "I think we did a much better job staying disciplined in our defensive system for longer periods of time as rallies went on and made some digs at the right time to create momentum and finish out sets." Sophomore libero Emily O'Day would lead the team with 25 digs but there were six players who tallied at least five digs, with Doll (10), Farley (9), and sophomore Claire Miller (7) all producing in the back court. Up at the net Catherine Egan would continue her forceful debut season by averaging a block a set (4 total), while classmate Lane was second on the team with 3 despite only playing three out of four sets.
Following up an emotional win over Vassar in their home opener on Wednesday night the Ephs look to be steadily gaining in confidence and building team chemistry going into what might prove their toughest weekend of the year before the NESCAC championship when they travel to Emory University on September 20th. Up next, however, Williams will face a scrappy and unpredictable Wesleyan team that is a perennial wild card in the conference. The Ephs will face the Cardinals in Middletown Saturday afternoon at 2:00.