BENNINGTON, Vt. – After falling behind 2-0 in the match, Southern Vermont College came within three points of completing another amazing comeback in New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) women's volleyball action this year. Unfortunately, the hosts could not finish the deal as Eastern Nazarene College pulled in front and went on to take the tilt by a 3-2 margin Saturday night at the Mountaineer Athletic Center.
Not only did the first-ever meeting between the two sides have playoff seeding implications—but it also had a playoff feel as raucous crowds for both teams electrified the gym. While ENC won the first two sets by 25-15 and 25-19 tallies, Southern Vermont refused to go quietly on its Senior Night.
The Mountaineers came back to take the next two frames, 25-19 and 25-20, and they then scored the opening six points of the deciding game. The Lions came back, however, and eventually went on top 11-10 before closing out the set with a 15-12 victory.
The two squads now prepare to host NECC quarterfinal matches on Tuesday. Southern Vermont (18-6, 7-2 NECC) will be the No. 3 seed in the league's playoffs and welcome Bay Path University to the MAC for a 7 p.m. first serve. The Lions (18-6, 8-1 NECC) moved up and took the top spot in the bracket with Saturday's win; they will host eighth-seeded Mitchell College at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Sowles paced the Mountaineers with 18 kills while adding nine digs and four aces to her line. Junior Taryn Higareda (Rosemead, Calif.) was right behind with a season-best 15 kills, and she also had nine digs on the defensive end. Benitez chalked up a match-high 25 digs while junior setter Sarah Baty (Portola, Calif.) had a season-best 40 assists.
Eastern Nazarene freshman Ruth Aguilar (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) had a match-leading 20 kills, and she also had 28 assists and 14 digs for a well-rounded night. Junior Courtney McCarthy (Merrimack, N.H.) posted 19 kills and 16 digs of her own while sophomore Samantha Caldwell (Quincy, Mass.) registered 21 assists for the Lions.
ENC jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the onset of the contest as McCarthy landed a pair of kills to help force a Mountaineer timeout. After SVC cut it to a three-point edge out the stoppage, the Lions then went on a 9-2 run to pull away; Aguilar had three kills in that stretch and finished the set with seven.
Eastern Nazarene carried its momentum into the second and started the game on a 9-3 run aided by a pair of kills from freshman Halle Julian (Whitman, Mass.). Back-to-back aces by senior Rebecca Ashman (Havre de Grace, Md.) gave ENC its biggest lead of the set (14-5), and that separation was carried until late in the frame. SVC made a push with a Sowles ace following a Higareda kill to make it 24-19, but a Mountaineer service error then gave the frame to the visitors.
After returning to its home bench, Southern Vermont began to find its groove. SVC scored five-straight points to force an ENC timeout early in the third –Higareda landing two kills and junior Dahlia Rafael-Tirado (Providence, R.I.) serving consecutive aces in that spurt. Baty posted a kill before firing across an ace to make it 21-15, and the Mountaineers then scored the last three points to extend the night. SVC committed just one hitting error on 27 swings in the game to record a .444 attacking percentage with 13 kills.
Southern Vermont ran out to a 7-0 lead in the fourth with Sowles dropping a kill and an ace in that time. Eastern Nazarene would come back and take the edge, however, to set up a close and tense set. SVC took to a 6-1 run to regain the upper hand, but the Lions were never far behind. After back-to-back Aguilar kills made it just a 20-18 Southern Vermont advantage, however, the Mountaineers won four of the last five to force the decisive fifth. Benitez was stellar in the frame with eight digs.
Sowles and Higareda each tallied three points to help their team go on top 6-0 in the final frame. Down 8-4, Eastern Nazarene then seized the momentum, however, and went on a 9-2 run to pull ahead; McCarthy had a pair of kills in that stretch while Aguilar had one of her own and an ensuing ace. Points went back-and-forth the rest of the way before the Lions celebrated finishing their inaugural season in the NECC atop the league standings.
– #LetsGoSVC –