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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Volleyball falls to Williams College in closely contested quarterfinal

The volleyball team lost 3-2 to Williams in front of a home crowd. Photo by Charlie Deichman-Caswell
The volleyball team lost 3-2 to Williams in front of a home crowd. Photo by Charlie Deichman-Caswell

Despite having plenty of moments to cheer for their team throughout the match, Middlebury volleyball fans left Pepin Gymnasium in silence at the end of Sunday’s NESCAC quarterfinal as Williams College walked away with a 3–2 win. The Panthers now await their fate in the national tournament as a selection committee assigns the at-large berths.

Middlebury looked strong in the opening set, emerging 25–20 victors after running away from Williams in the final few points. 

“In the first set we definitely showed up and played our game,” said Molly Harrison ’27, who recorded 15 kills and led the team with three service aces. 

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The Ephs responded, taking the second set 25–21, despite a late rally from the Panthers. A lapse of concentration in the third set allowed Williams to gain a comfortable 10 point advantage. Despite another late surge from Middlebury, the hosts could not catch up, falling 25-21 for the second consecutive set. With the game on the line, the Panthers needed to deliver in the fourth set. After a back and forth affair, they did exactly that, snagging a 27–25 win and taking the match to the decisive fifth set. 

The sides remained close until the end, when Williams ran away to claim a 15–10 win in the set and a 3–2 win in the match overall. 

“There were moments where we were very much not playing like ourselves and that’s where we lost,” Harrison said. “I’d love to say that if both teams played at their best then we would be the better team, but it just wasn’t our day.”

The loss felt premature for the strong Panthers team, who entered the tournament as the third seed and harbored ambitions of winning the program’s first NESCAC title since 2016. If they are overlooked for the national tournament, it will mark an abrupt end to an otherwise rosy season for Middlebury, who finished the regular season 7–3 in the conference and 15–8 overall. 

“It’s rough to get out early but we had some really great games,” Harrison said. “The games where we played our best are a better reflection of our season and who we are as a team.”

Middlebury certainly did score some notable performances across the season. After a slow start to the year, the team notched a six game win streak through the last two weeks of September, with four of those wins finishing as 3–0 shutouts. The Panthers continued their red-hot form at the New England Challenge, where they went two for three, handing Springfield College just their second loss of the season and Babson College their fourth. By the end of the season, the Panthers earned a second place ranking in their NCAA region, keeping their hopes for a national tournament berth afloat.

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A number of landmark achievements marked the Panthers’ season this year. Harrison was tabbed as the NESCAC player of the week on Oct. 23 after recording 21 kills in the Panthers’ victory over Babson. She has recorded 297 kills on the season, putting her on track for fourth in the program’s all time statistics. Gabbie O’Toole ’25 became just the fifth player in the program’s history to eclipse 2,000 assists, currently sitting on 2,404 and on pace to move up to second in the all-time charts. Kelly Ferrero ’23.5 broke the 1,000 career digs mark, finishing the season with 280 in total. 

Fueled by these impressive performances, the Panthers overall earned the program’s 500th win since the team’s creation in 1994.

“A lot of us are wanting to focus on these moments that were really successful,” Harrison said. “I wouldn’t sacrifice anything to change what we had this season.”

Editor’s note: Lexi Linafelter ’24 is a sports editor and a captain of the women’s volleyball team.

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Charles Crounse

Charles Crounse '24 (he/him) is the senior sports editor for the Campus. He has previously worked as a writer and staff editor for the section. Charles is pursuing a major in environmental policy and a minor in French, and in his free time he enjoys biking, hiking, and exploring Vermont. He is also a member of the club soccer team on campus.