Midway through Friday’s match it seemed as if history would repeat itself. After losing the first two games 25-30 and 21-30, the ‘Dogs found their backs against the ropes. Down 10-20 in the third game, recovery appeared impossible.
“After the second game I thought we were blocking well and hitting okay, but we needed some digs in the back row,” said head coach Sue Everden.
Enter Laura Golden, a first-year from Boca Raton, Fla. “Though Laura had practiced well all year, she hadn’t played a lot,” said Everden. But when called upon in the third game, with the season on the line, Everden said Golden was “exactly the spark we needed.”
Aided by the defensive skills of Golden and the offensive prowess of juniors Kristin Quinn and Nikki Davidson, Amherst mounted an unbelievable comeback. The Jumbos stood within one point of the match on two occasions during the third game, but the Firedogs managed to maintain composure and saved the lead.
“I just couldn’t face the possibility of actually ending our season on that note,” said setter Annie Hoeksma ’05. “It was a matter of who wanted it more and we really stepped up as a team.”
Behind the serve of co-captain Lauren Wong ’04 and the blocking of Sara Bruggeman ’06, Amherst rallied back to win the third game 32-30.
“After the first three games we knew we weren’t playing to our potential,” said co-captain Jessica Allen ’04 “But something changed in the fourth game, and I had total confidence that we were going to win; there was not a doubt in my mind.”
Working off the momentum from game three, the ‘Dogs were able to maintain the crucial mental edge throughout the fourth. Their ensuing 30-27 win forced the deciding fifth game.
The Jumbos came out strong, winning the initial race to eight points. However, after the side switch, the game was all Amherst’s. Relentless hitting and consistent blocking allowed Amherst to close the Jumbo’s lead to 13-14. Despite the potential for a nervous collapse just one point away from the end of their season, the Firedogs kept their composure and regained the serve.
At 15-14 it seemed Tufts was about to tie the score, but the middle hit they hoped would win the point was rejected at the net by Hoeksma, giving Amherst the match.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season and my career,” said Allen. “I was so proud of our team, it showed so much heart to come back like that.”
“We needed this win to prove to ourselves that we had the mental toughness and heart to overcome such a huge deficit,” Wong added.
“[The Tufts’] contest was absolutely perfect for the two seniors,” said Everden. “That game is why you play for four years.”
Allen and Wong combined to play the most inspired game of their careers. Not only did Allen contribute eight kills at critical moments, she also provided 14 digs defensively.
Wong showed her versatility by tallying four aces, four kills and four solo blocks at the net while assisting on 11 more.
As they have all season, Davidson and Quinn were critical components of Amherst’s offense with 16 and 18 kills, respectively.
Saturday’s NESCAC semifinal showdown pitted Amherst against rival Williams College. Though the Ephs won both match-ups earlier in the season, the ‘Dogs entered the game confidently, knowing that if they played as well as they had against Tufts, the outcome could surely be different.
In previous matches Amherst had faltered mentally, allowing Williams to score large runs at a time. The momentum of Saturday’s game was different although the outcome was unfortunately the same. Despite a well-played game all around, the Firedogs fell to the Ephs in 3 games (30-21, 30-23, 30-21).
“I was pleased with the way we played, though I wish we could have picked up a game off them,” said Everden. “The score doesn’t reflect what a close game it really was.”
Quinn and Davidson again led the team with eight kills each, while Hoeksma provided 21 assists. Defensively the ‘Dogs were paced by Bruggeman, who tallied four solo blocks and assisted on seven others. In the back court Davidson posted eight digs, while Raddock, Golden and Allen each added seven.
After defeating Amherst, Williams proceeded to beat Bates College for the NESCAC Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.