Volleyball Forced to Settle for NCAA’s

Fortunately for the Jeffs, a spectacular regular season record (24-3) was more than enough to lock up an at-large bid, and a chance for possible second-round retribution against NESCAC foe Tufts, assuming that both Amherst and Tufts win their first-round matches.

Saturday’s home court loss came as a bit of a surprise, as top-seeded Amherst had previously beaten Tufts twice this season, both home and away, by the score of 3-1 each time.

Tufts won the semifinal match 3-0, taking the sets with scores of 25-15, 25-22 and 25-20. Amherst struggled to finish off points, as not a single Jeff recorded double-digit kills for the night.

Sophomore setter Callie Neilson recorded her usual 30+ assists, and senior libero co-captain Rachel Yorke tallied a match-high 33 digs in a valiant defensive effort.

Twice Amherst showed some life, taking a 12-10 lead in the second set following an emphatic Katherine Kanoff ’12 kill, and again in the third set as Abigail Hunter ’13 came up with two blocks to bring the score to 12-12. However, neither effort was enough, as the Tufts attack, spearheaded by senior Caitlin Updike’s 16 kills, proved too much for Amherst to handle.

The deflating loss came on the heels of a convincing victory over Wesleyan Univ. Friday night in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Friday’s quarterfinal match was more reminiscent of Amherst’s magical regular season, as the Jeffs showed both guts and flair in beating the Cardinals.

Junior Cristy Meier led the Jeffs with 16 kills, closely followed by 14-kill performances from senior co-captain Laura Hyman and Kanoff. Senior co-captain Jackie Berkley also made an impact with an impressive four blocks.

Several times, Wesleyan put Amherst on the ropes, especially in the first set when Wesleyan jumped out to a 14-10 lead. Fittingly, the Jeffs battled strong with the stubborn resolve they have had all year to win the first set 25-21 and the match 3-1. The win gave Amherst a perfect 9-0 record at home going into Saturday’s semifinal.

Adding to the already weighty distinctions this 2010 volleyball team has garnered, Yorke and Hyman were named to the ESPN Academic all-District Team Thursday. Both players have been integral to the success of the volleyball team this year, and both have maintained impressive GPA’s in the process.

Yorke has proven one of the most valuable defensive players in the NESCAC over her four years on the court. The senior simply owns the backcourt, as she easily leads the NESCAC in digs per set with a staggering 6.95 on the season.

Conversely, Hyman, who was also named to the all-NESCAC first team this week, achieves similar success through slightly different means. Hyman makes her impact on the court a little closer to the net, in the frontcourt. She is currently tied for first in blocks per set in the conference with an intimidating average of 1.02, to go along with 1.83 kills per set while maintaining an impressive .341 hitting percentage. Over their four years at Amherst the two have proven crucial to the team’s versatility, an imposing one-two punch. The duo will be sorely missed this coming season.

Amherst enters the NCAA’s with one of the most formidable records in the field, joining only eight other teams amongst the 63-team draw with fewer than four losses. The match will be held at Springfield College on Friday at 5:30 p.m. As regional host, Springfield is also the site of Amherst’s potential round-of-32 match against the winner of the Springfield and Tufts match. The possibility for a rematch against Tufts next Saturday should be more than enough incentive for Amherst.