Chris Kendrick (@CKendrick86)
CHICOPEE, Mass. – The Elms College women's volleyball team established a new single-season record for wins in a season, fending off visiting Smith College, 3-2 (25-23, 26-24, 21-25, 10-25, 15-13), in a non-conference action at Picknelly Arena Thursday night. The program registered their first victory over the Pioneers in nine career meetings to improve to 12-9 overall, while Smith dips to 7-13 on the season.
The Pioneers jumped to a 12-4 lead in the first set behind five service aces from freshman Caleigh Johnson (Georgetown, Texas). The Blazers responded with a pair of aces from freshman Ayanna Meadows (Springfield, Mass.) and kills from junior Danielle Redding (Las Vegas, N.V.) and freshman Hannah Pichardo (South Glen Falls, N.Y.) to close the gap to 14-12. Two kills from Johnson helped escort the Pioneers lead to 21-17, but Elms capitalized on Smith errors and added an ace from Meadows and a kill from freshman Hayley Castanos (Santa Ana, Calif.) to even the set at 23-23, and then freshman Dakota Stewart (Victoria, Texas) dumped in the final point to seal the 25-23 win.
The Blazers led early in the second set as a kill from Pichardo put Elms ahead 9-5. The Pioneers used a 7-2 run, featuring two aces and two kills from Johnson, to capture a 12-11 lead. The sides exchanged the lead five times through the middle of the set as back-to-back kills from Meadows and Castanos handed Elms a 21-20 advantage. Smith used two kills from freshman Amy Hagen (Owings, Md.) to build a 23-21 lead, but the Blazers answered with strikes from Castanos and Meadows to hold a 24-23 lead. Hagen evened the score with a kill, but gave one back at the service line, and then Stewart notched another kill to grab the 26-24 win.
The Blazers led through a majority of the third set as four kills from Castanos created a 15-11 gap. Trailing 18-16, the Pioneers took their first lead of the set, 20-19, behind kills from Hagen and senior Xela Miller (Grenada Hills, Calif.). Smith maintained the edge with an ace from Hagen, and then used Elms errors to finish the 25-21 win.
The Pioneers dominated the fourth set, racing to a 13-2 lead behind three kills from Miller and two aces from Hagen. A service ace from sophomore Judy Huang (Cranston, R.I.) pushed Smith to a 17-5 advantage, and then senior Elizabeth Peay (Lebanon, Conn.) sandwiched strikes around a tally from Johnson to build a 22-9 lead. Smith used an ace from sophomore Clare Roediger (San Francisco, Calif.) and a kill from Hagen to even the match with the 25-10 win.
Tied 3-3 in the final frame, Elms harnessed a 5-3 lead with back-to-back kills from Meadows. A kill from Miller helped Smith trim the deficit to 8-6, but Elms pulled away with tallies from Castanos and Stewart. The Blazers used consecutive strikes from Redding to hold a 14-10 lead, but Smith mounted a final rally with a kill from Peay and back-to-back kills from Hagen to make it 14-13, but a final service error sent Elms to the 15-13 lead.
The Blazers had three attackers with double-digit kills, paced by a career-high 13 kills and a career-high 14 digs from Castanos. Meadows notched 11 kills with 20 digs and three aces, while Redding posted 11 kills and 10 digs. Stewart recorded her 15th double-double of the season with 34 assists and a team-high 23 digs.
Hagen led the Pioneers attack with a match-high 18 kills, 17 digs and four aces. Peay logged 13 kills with eight digs, and Johnson added nine kills, a match-high seven aces, and a match-high four blocks. Huang dished out a match-high 40 assists, while senior Sakura Tamaki (New York, N.Y.) grabbed a match-high 27 digs in the loss.
"It's really nice with this team that putting in a lot of work and trying new things is starting to show with the competition we are going up against," said Elms Head Coach Sheila Gisbrecht. "We still show our youth and inconsistency, evident in the fourth set, but overall it's really nice to see the positive forward motion of the group. In the first two sets, we displayed our ability to battle back and showed we could hold a team from scoring those final points when were are down three or four, but once again it would be nice if we could do that consistently throughout an entire set and match. The biggest improvement we need to make from the third and fourth set is not getting unsettled as a group. We need to be able to play in our system as much as possible, and we spent a lot of time playing a little frazzled, running around and acting like a team we were not. We need to realize we play a certain way, that way works for us, and we need to always try and play in that fashion. I feel like a combination of things has led to our success this season. The team has amazing chemistry, and we have great depth with players getting a lot of minutes at various positions, which removes the individual pressure to perform every night. The team has bought into the process, and everyone knows the role they need to fill on a given night. We need to be consistent and level-headed against Bay Path, they are always a scrappy team and we need to know that they will get balls up, so we'll have to be patient, take our swings and get our points as they come."
The Blazers will return to the court when they host Bay Path in New England Collegiate Conference action Saturday at Noon. Smith travels to Regis College for a tri-match against Saint Joseph and Lasell Saturday starting at Noon.