Middlebury, VT-- Volleyball put their undefeated conference record on the line Wednesday night when they traveled up to Middlebury for a mid-week battle. Coming off an out of region trip to Emory the weekend before, the Ephs were eager to face off against a more familiar New England opponent. In the end it would be the host Panthers who ran off with a hard fought 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-22, 25-20) victory that will have serious implications for later NESCAC and NCAA seeding. With the win Middlebury moves to 8-3 (2-1 in NESCAC) while Williams falls to 7-5 (2-1 in NESCAC).
The Ephs got out to a quick start in the first set, grabbing a 2-0 lead against their slightly taken aback opponents. Williams would maintain this margin as the set moved into its middle phase until Middlebury managed to tie the score at 8-8. A serving run by sophomore libero Emily O'Day brought the Ephs ahead 13-9, although once again Middlebury, steadily finding their stride, would again force a tie at 16-16. As both teams settled in to begin to grind it out Middlebury snuck ahead with a one point lead 19-18. A 5-2 run by the Panthers left the Ephs with their backs against a wall, and although Williams pulled back two points to make it 24-22, the late collapse would prove costly as their opponents took the set 25-22.
In the second set it was Middlebury who took the early lead up 5-1. A serving run by first year middle hitter Catherine Egan would cut the lead to one point down 6-7. The Panthers responded with a 4-1 run that regained them the lead up 11-7. A back to back kill and block combination by sophomore outside hitter Emily Baratta once again sparked an Eph rally to bring the set back within reach down 10-11. A monster block by senior co-captain Haley Eagon tied the score for Williams at 12-12 and an ace by Baratta made in 13-12. Middlebury would tie the score at 15-15, although the surging Ephs would then push out to a two point lead up 20-18. Standing strong at the net while protecting serve Williams would go up three points at 22-19, and Egan gave the team a set point with her serve up 24-19 before Middlebury was able to side out. The Panthers were unable to rally, however, conceding the hard-fought set to the Ephs, who took it 25-20.
The score was back and forth to start the third set, with Williams unable to open up more than a one point lead. The Ephs finally broke through to take a two point lead up 10-8. A kill by junior co-captain Emily Doll increased the lead to three up 13-10. Williams would make the lead four points at 18-14. Digging in their heels Middlebury would come up with a 4-0 serving run to tie the score at 18-18. With first year setter Ryan Farley serving a block by her classmate Egan ensured that the Ephs could sense victory, as they rebounded to run out a three point lead up 22-19. Middlebury called a decisive time out as they were able to embark on a 6-0 run to close out the set 25-22.
Williams took a short-lived 3-1 lead to open the fourth set, although the Panthers would quickly tie the score at 3-3. The Ephs would swing the momentum back in their favor, however, to regain the lead up 6-3. It was Middlebury's turn to flip the score once again, however, as they responded with aggressive play to go up 9-7. A Baratta kill allowed Williams to tie the score at 13-13, although the Ephs would then give up a 7-2 run to the Panthers that gave them a decisive 20-15 advantage. Williams would launch one last rally and close the gap to two points down 19-21, although a 3-0 serving run by Middlebury would give them all the space they needed to close out the match with a 25-20 set victory.
While the Ephs showed at times the level of talent that makes them potentially one of the most dangerous teams in the conference, their lack of consistency ultimately cost them in what remained a tight match up until the very end. Williams was led offensively by sophomore outside hitter Claire Miller who had 9 kills but also committed 5 errors for an attack average of .105. Emily Baratta had seven kills but eleven errors to hit negative for the match. As a team the Ephs hit a paltry .037, as opposed to the relatively higher average of .174 for the Panthers. Defensively Williams showed some great strides in improving their blocking at the net. The Ephs had 5 total team blocks in the match with Miller (3), and Egan (2) leading the way. Eagon and Doll also contributed two blocks apiece.
In the defensive back court Williams leaned hard on the sophomore tandem of Emily O'Day and Amanda Schott to keep balls off the floor and prolong rallies. O'Day had 20 digs to lead the team while Schott kicked in an additional 14. First year setter Ryan Farley also had a strong performance in her secondary defensive role with 15 digs. Farley would ably run the Williams offense in her primary role by giving out 32 assists to her teammates.
The Ephs are left with little time to dwell on this most recent setback, as they will look to rebound when they host conference foes Bates and Colby this upcoming weekend. They will take on the Bobcats on Friday evening before facing the Mules, on of the two remaining unbeaten teams in the conference, on Saturday afternoon.