Amherst Upsets No. 2 Williams to Advance to NCAA Round of 16

CAMBRIDGE, MA – In New England regional action at MIT this evening, the third-seeded Amherst College women's volleyball team battled NESCAC and Little Three archrival Williams College. In the NCAA Tournament's second round, the two rivals met for the third time this season and went to five games for the third time, with Amherst winning 3-2 to advance.

The two teams had split the season series prior to Friday's match, with Amherst winning the regular season match-up before Williams upset the top-seeded Lord Jeffs in LeFrak Gymnasium for the 2007 NESCAC Championship. The road win for a conference crown was the second consecutive in the rivalry, as Amherst took the 2006 title at Williams.

The match-up last Sunday lasted five games, with each game hotly contested and very competitive. The first game in this evening's match was no different as Amherst held an early lead before Williams woke up to even things up at 15-15.

The two teams played neck-and-neck until Williams pulled away to a 23-17 advantage. After an Amherst timeout, the Jeffs looked to senior tri-captain Jaclyn DeMais (Hillsdale, NJ) to stop the bleeding. The outside hitter picked up a big kill, but Williams took control right back with a trio of points to take a 26-18 lead.

With first-year middle hitter Jackie Berkley (Fullerton, CA) serving, Amherst went on a small run of its own to close the gap to five points. Amherst fought hard to stay close with the Ephs, but ultimately lost the opener 30-24.

Out of another Amherst timeout, DeMais once again registered a kill to bring the Jeffs to within a single point. DeMais then headed to the back line to serve, where the Jeffs ran off three points in a row before Eph hitter Melissa Pun answered at 26-26.In the second game of the night, Amherst held a small but consistent two or three point advantage throughout the first half of the stanza, eventually standing at 14-11. DeMais helped the Jeffs push to a four-point lead at 19-15 with an emphatic kill, forcing Williams into a timeout. The Williams timeout was quite productive, as the Ephs ran off four points to tie the game at 19-19 and force Amherst head coach Sue Everden into a timeout of her own.

The two rivals traded points until junior setter Sara Heller (La Canada, CA) served at 28-27 in favor of Amherst. A miraculous dig by first-year Rachel Yorke (Los Angeles, CA) preserved the rally and set up Amherst for the game-two win at 29-27. Senior tri-captain Whitney Kouvaris (Jacksonville, FL) fittingly got the game-winning kill to tie the match at one game apiece.

At the end of the second game, the Ephs were hitting just .181 to Amherst's .216. DeMais and Kouvaris had already combined for 13 kills after just two games. At the start of game three, senior tri-captain Julie Berkley (Fullerton, CA) served for Amherst to kick things off.

Amherst fell behind early in the third frame, trailing 7-2 to the Ephs. The Jeffs played their way back into the game at 13-12, with sophomore Bethany Belisle (Austin, TX) serving for Amherst during the comeback.

Back-to-back kills from Kouvaris gave Amherst its first lead of the game at 15-14 before a block from Williams evened things up once again at the halfway point of game three.

Junior Claire Holton-Basaldua (San Rafael, CA) capped a small run by Amherst with a powerful kill down the right line for a 21-18 lead. Williams first-year Emily Avis was the Jeff-killer in the NESCAC title game, setting the conference tournament single game assist record at 71, but a pair of ball handling errors pushed the Amherst lead to 24-19.

DeMais registered the game-winning kill in the third game to close out a 30-23 win for Amherst and give the Jeffs a match lead at 2-1.

In similar fashion to the third game, Williams pulled out to a small early lead at 10-7, when Amherst called a timeout. The timeout was not as effective as earlier ones, and Williams expanded its lead to 14-8.

Amherst crept back in at 14-11 when Julie Berkley dove to save a ball and Yorke sent a bump slowly over the net that could not be returned after some confusion on the Williams side. The Ephs didn't let the error get to them as they pushed their lead up to 24-16.

Amherst fought hard to stay alive facing the game-point from Williams, rolling off a few winners of their own. The Ephs finally got the game-winner on a drive that sailed outside the reach of Yorke.

For the third straight meeting, the match was heading for a fifth game. In almost every game this evening, Williams jumped out to an early lead, but if Amherst wanted to advance they would need to hold off an early run.

Amherst took a 3-2 lead on another miscommunication from the Ephs on a harmless free ball. DeMais doubled the lead with another trademark kill, creeping ever closer to 30 kills on the night. Classmate Kouvaris gave Amherst a 6-3 edge on a powerful kill through the Eph backline.

After a Williams timeout, Amherst scored the next point on an emphatic block from Kouvaris and Jackie Berkley. Amherst scored its eighth point on an Eph hitting error, and the two teams switched sides with Amherst leading 8-4.

Kouvaris picked up another kill to give Amherst a 10-7 lead, but Williams' Nicole Ballon-Landa answered back to close the gap to 10-8. After a botched call by the linesmen was overturned by the tower official, Amherst held a 12-8 lead. Williams called its last timeout to strategize, but Amherst refused to let its momentum diminish, receiving a pair of kills from DeMais and Kouvaris to win game five, 15-11.

When it was all said and done, the senior hitters had combined for 57 kills, with DeMais registering 30 and the 27 remaining going to Kouvaris. Yorke, the libero, led the Amherst defense once again by piling up 40 digs, while Heller dished out 78 helpers.

Amherst improves to 29-4 with the win, and advances to tomorrow night's sectional final against the winner of tonight's match between host-MIT and Wellesley College. The Jeffs' next match will begin Saturday at 7 p.m.