NESCAC Final: No. 2 Middlebury 3, No. 1 Tufts 2

NESCAC Final: No. 2 Middlebury 3, No. 1 Tufts 2

Courtesy of Tufts Sports Information

MEDFORD, Mass. – Second-seeded Middlebury won a thrilling five-set match, 3-2, over top-seeded Tufts on Sunday to capture the 2016 NESCAC Volleyball Championship.  Becca Raffel led the Panthers with 15 kills  and 26 digs and Isabel Sessions added 12 kills as the Panthers won their fifth conference title and their first since 2012.

With the win the Panthers improve to 18-8 and will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  With the loss the Jumbos move to 23-3 and will await a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA field will be announced on Monday at 12:30 p.m.

The Jumbos came out on fire and took an early lead in the first set and completed a 25-14 win.  But, the Panthers responded immediately took set two, 25-19, to even the match at one each. 

The Panthers and the Jumbos would battle in the third set as Tufts took an early lead but weren't able to hold on. With the Jumbos holding a 7-3 advantage, Middlebury started its comeback, and tied the match at 11 thanks to a kill from Raffel and a Jumbo error.  With the set knotted at 14 the Panthers recevied two kills from Raffel and a service ace from Gigi Alper to take the lead they would not give up as they went on to win set three 25-19.

The fourth set might have been the closest of the day. Tufts lead for nearly the entire set until the Panthers scored three consecutive points to tie the set at 24 behind a couple of Jumbo errors and two kills from Raffel.  But, the Jumbos a kill from rookie Brigid Bell and a Panther error allowed Tufts to win the set, 26-24. 

In the fifth and deciding set, the Jumbos jumped out in front. But, trailing 10-6 the Panthers started their comeback and scored seven points behind the serve of Raffel before the Tufts received a point thanks to a Panther error. Up, 13-11, two Tufts' errors gave Middlebury the conference title with a 15-11 win in the final set. 

Raffel's 15 kills led the Panthers with Sessions adding 12. Melanie English had a great day at the net, finishing with six blocks as Sarah Staver, Eliana Schaefer and Alice Roberts all added three of their own. Hannah Blackburn finished with 29 digs, and Raffel and Alper each added 26 digs on the day. Blackburn and Chellsa Ferdinand took care of the setting, finishing with 23 and 13 assists, respectively. 

For the Jumbos it was Bell that was the offensive leader with 15 kills while McKenzie Humann added ten and Maddie Stewart finished with seven. Humann also added six blocks, four solo, and Stewart had four blocks on the day. Kelly Klimo tallied 31 digs and junior co-captain Alex Garrett added 18, while Bell turned in 17.  Angela Yu and Rachel Furash ran the offense for the Jumbos, with Yu tallying 24 assists and Furash finishing with 17.