Amherst Drops NESCAC Championship Match to Williams, 3-2

AMHERST, MA – The stage was set for another clash between Amherst College and Williams College, as the archrivals took to the court with the 2007 NESCAC volleyball title on the line. The Ephs and Lord Jeffs traded wins to force a fifth and deciding game, with second-seeded Williams pulling off the upset for their first championship since 2004. Amherst moves to 27-4 on the year and will hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, while Williams improves to 27-7 and earns an automatic berth.

Home court advantage was clearly not going to be a factor, as LeFrak Gymnasium was packed with just as many Williams fans as Amherst fans. The Ephs and Jeffs were equally sharp coming out of the gate, with Williams leading for most of game one until Amherst went on top, 16-15. The rest of the game was a back-and-forth battle, but Williams held on for a 30-27 win in a game that featured 16 ties and six lead changes, with neither team leading by more than three points at any time.

Amherst jumped out to a 5-1 advantage in the second game and never handed the lead over to Williams, as the Jeffs led by as many as six points and were in control for most of the way. The Ephs refused to go away, however, and stormed back to tie things up at 22-22, but a huge block from junior Sara Heller (La Canada, CA) put a stop to Williams' momentum. The Ephs tied the game once again at 27-27, but a crucial Eph receiving error allowed Amherst to pull ahead for good, as the Jeffs held on for a 30-27 victory to tie the match at one game apiece.

The Ephs regained composure and led by five early in the third game before taking a commanding 17-10 lead that forced Amherst to call a timeout. The Jeffs were able to creep to within three points several times and pulled to within two at the very end, but Williams took a two-games-to-one lead with yet another 30-27 win.

With Amherst's back to the wall, the home fans grew rowdy and gave a true sense of home court advantage. The fourth game looked as though it would be the closest yet until the Jeffs went ahead by six points after some great play from senior tri-captain Jaclyn DeMais (Hillsdale, NJ), but the Ephs once again refused to go away and cut the deficit to one, as they trailed 19-18. The Jeffs rattled off four consecutive points to pull ahead by five, but before long the teams were notched at 25-25.

A crucial Amherst block broke the 25-25 tie and the Jeffs scored five unanswered points to send the match to a fifth and deciding game, as the NESCAC title came down to a race to 15 points. Amherst took an early timeout in the final game after Williams scored the first three points, but the Ephs' run did not stop there, as the top seed found itself in a 5-0 hole.

The teams switched sides after Williams took an 8-4 lead and the Jeffs were unable to cut their deficit to less than three, as the Ephs held on for a 15-9 win to secure their seventh NESCAC crown in program history. Williams' victory marked the first upset of the tournament.

Williams first-year sensation Emily Avis (Palo Alto, CA) set a NESCAC Championship record with her 71 assists and added 15 digs, while fellow rookies Kate Anderson (Berlin, MA) and Nicole Ballon-Landa (La Jolla, CA) had 11 kills and 23 kills, respectively, with Ballon-Landa adding seven blocks.

The Eph sophomore class was just as impressive, with Alisha Cahlan (Las Vegas, NV) totaling 18 kills and four block assists, Melissa Pun (San Francisco, CA) adding 14 kills and 21 digs, and Chelsea Kubal (Atherton, CA) racking up 36 digs.

DeMais was her usual brilliant self with 25 kills, 35 digs and five blocks, while fellow tri-captain Whitney Kouvaris (Jacksonville, FL) adding 19 kills. Junior Claire Holton-Basaldua (San Rafael, CA) had 15 kills and six blocks for the Jeffs, first-year Rachel Yorke (Los Angeles, CA) had an impressive 39 digs, senior tri-captain Julie Berkley (Fullerton, CA) had 18 digs, and junior Sara Heller (La Canada, CA) chalked up 59 assists and 20 digs. First-year Jackie Berkley (Fullerton, CA) had 11 kills and 10 blocks while hitting at a .435 clip.

Friday, Nov. 2 at Amherst College
No. 1 Amherst def. No. 8 Bowdoin, 3-1 (30-22, 30-22, 25-30, 30-22)
No. 2 Williams def. No. 7 Middlebury, 3-0 (30-24, 30-20, 30-21)
No. 3 Tufts def. No. 6 Trinity (30-26, 30-25, 30-23)
No. 4 Conn. def. No. 5 Wesleyan (30-16, 34-32, 30-26)
Saturday, Nov. 3 at Amherst College
No. 1 Amherst def. No. 4 Conn., 3-1 (30-18, 30-26, 25-30, 30-28)
No. 2 Williams def. No. 3 Tufts, 3-0 (30-20, 30-26, 30-21)
Sunday, Nov. 4 at Amherst College
No. 2 Williams def. No. 1 Amherst, 3-2 (30-27, 27-30, 30-27, 25-30, 15-9)