Setting Up for a Historic Season
By Karan Bains '14, Sports Section Editor
With the majority of the regular season in the books, the women’s volleyball team continues to roll through its schedule. In the past two weeks, the Firedogs have extended their winning streak to a remarkable 15 consecutive matches and now boast a record of 18-1. The lone blemish, an early season loss, seems like a distant memory as the team builds on each subsequent win.

After enjoying a victorious weekend at Bates, the team traveled to Western New England College on Oct. 6. The Firedogs overwhelmed the Golden Bears in straight sets, led by Callie Neilson ’13, who set up the offense with 30 assists. Rachel Yorke ’11 paced the defense with 28 digs.

The road matches continued two days later, as the Firedogs traveled to Middlebury to take on Tufts and Bowdoin in one of the most important weekends of the season. Amherst has not played the role of underdog many times this season, but the team went into the Tufts game looking to upset the top-ranked team in the New England Volleyball Association Women’s Regional Poll.

The chances of an upset looked slim after Amherst dropped the first set 19-25, but the Firedogs came back with a vengeance, winning the next three sets by scores of 25-22, 25-16 and 25-22, respectively. Neilson and Yorke both continued their strong play, as Neilson posted 46 assists and Yorke added 38 digs. The balanced offensive attack proved too much for Tufts, as five Amherst players combined to finish 46 kills off Neilson’s passes.

The momentum from this huge win carried the team past Bowdoin in straight sets the following day. The Firedogs, enthused by their upset of Tufts, came out with a great deal of energy and aggressiveness, led by Cristy Meier ’12. Meier finished off over half of Neilson’s 40 assists, putting up 21 kills for the match.

While the weekend proved fruitful for the team as a whole, Neilson’s outstanding play earned her NESCAC Co-Player of the Week honors. With an average of 12 assists per set for the week, Neilson became the first Amherst player to earn the award this year. However, she deferred much of the credit to her teammates, saying, “I was recognized by the NESCAC because my teammates were there to support me. . . We depend so much on each other that, without a good pass, or a good set, or a good kill, none of us will look like good players.”

This “team—first” attitude served the Firedogs well the following week as well. The string of road games ended with a straight sets victory against Westfield State, the second time the Firedogs have defeated the Owls this season.

The return home to LeFrak Gymnasium gave the players an added boost heading into a conference match against Trinity. Before squaring off against the Bantams, Amherst celebrated Senior Night by honoring captains Yorke, Jackie Berkley and Laura Hyman, as well as fellow senior Erin Camp. This particular group has posted an 87—22 cumulative record over their four years at Amherst, good for a .798 winning percentage, but they are still hungry for more success. The captains emphasize that the team “hasn’t peaked yet, and that’s something that we’re really happy about. . . Our momentum will come as we continue to play hard and execute as well as we can.”

Yet after the ceremony, the Firedogs let down their guard and lost the first set 22-25. The second frame was also hotly contested, but Amherst pulled away from a 16-6 tie to win 25-18. The final two sets went more easily for the Firedogs by scores of 25-18 and 25-15. Katherine Kanoff ’12 put up 10 kills, four service aces and 16 digs for an impressive all-around stat line, while Neilson continued her fantastic play with 48 assists and 14 digs. In addition, Hyman had a solid effort with 10 kills and eight blocks.

The conference wins continued to pile up last weekend, with two more victories coming against Connecticut College and Wesleyan University on Saturday. Both opponents put up valiant fights in LeFrak, and the Cardinals nearly wrestled the first set away from Amherst, but the home team pulled out the 28-26 win to set up a straight sets victory.

In the next match, Connecticut managed to win the first set 25-27, but the Firedogs clamped down to take the next three sets by scores of 27-25, 25-20 and 25-18, wearing down the Camels as the match went on.

Yorke, who leads the NESCAC with over six digs per set, led a strong defensive effort with 60 digs for the day. Fellow senior Camp added 33 digs and Devin Pence ’14 showed poise by putting up 36 digs alongside the Firedogs’ accomplished upperclassmen.

Yorke’s outstanding accomplishments were recognized by the NESCAC, which named her the player of the week for a four-game stretch in which she posted 7.43 digs per set and a receiving percentage of 0.915. She has been the defensive leader of the squad for the entire season, putting up a career high 6.60 digs per set. She is the second Firedog to receive the award this season.

The latest foe for Amherst, Eastern Connecticut, also was not up to the challenge of facing the red—hot Firedogs, as Amherst took a straight sets victory to end the home schedule a perfect 9—0 in LeFrak. This win was the 15th straight for the Firedogs, an unprecedented streak that has eclipsed the previous record of 14 consecutive wins by the 2006 team. However, coach Sue Everden prefers to focus on the intangible aspects of her team that lead to such success.

“The team is a tremendous group of women who respect one another, who bring fun and laughter onto the court each day, who compete in the moment but understand ‘balance’ in being a student-athlete at Amherst,” she said. “I think they are an exceptional example of attending to the little things that comprise the big picture and really letting the ‘winning thing’ just take care of itself.”

The “winning thing” certainly is taking care of itself thus far in the season, and has given Amherst the top spot in the NESCAC going into the final stretch of the season. The Firedogs look to hold onto that spot in their final six games, tuning up for what promises to be a highly entertaining run in the NESCAC tournament.

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 03:38:03