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MIT Women's Wolleyball Triumphs Over Tufts, Wellesley

By Paul Dill TEAM COACH

The MIT Women’s Volleyball team continued their strong opening to the 2003 season last week with victories over perennial local rivals Tufts and Wellesley, yet suffered their first defeat of the season to reigning New England regional champion Williams in a thrilling five-set match.

Tuesday night saw the Engineers (6-1) travel to Tufts (3-2) to face a vastly improved Jumbos squad, returning all six starters from a team that won 20 matches in 2002. While the Tufts team had a remarkably fluid, consistent style of play, they were still no match for the high-octane Engineer offense, led by outside hitter and co-captain Nydia M. Clayton ’04, who registered a match-high 22 kills while pacing MIT to 30-26, 30-28 wins in the first two games. A resilient Tufts squad clawed back into the match with a 31-29 victory in game 3, but the Engineers closed out the match with a 30-26 finish.

Setter and co-captain Austin Zimmerman ’06 ran a balanced offense, tallying 51 assists as outside hitter Joy N. Hart ’06 and middle blocker Caroline Jordan ’06 pounded 12 kills apiece. With her trademark lefty attacks, Zimmerman added 12 kills from just 24 attempts.

Defensively, the Engineers put together a tenacious display, with six different players achieving double-digits in digs, led by Hart and defensive specialist Lisa Rossi ’07, each with 15. Clayton added 14 digs from her left side position, while opposite Arlis Reynolds ’06 neutralized the Tufts outside hitters with 13 digs of her own. Jordan and Zimmerman added 12 digs, as Zimmerman logged her first triple-double of the season.

On Saturday, the Engineers journeyed to Williams College for a tri-match against Williams, currently ranked 19th in Division III, and seven-time defending NEWMAC champion Wellesley. Opening the day against Williams, the Engineers began the match with a rare case of nerves, as an impressive offensive output from Williams sophomore middle blocker Joyia Chadwick carried the Ephs to 30-16 and 30-22 wins in the first two games. Clayton and Reynolds, both recovering from illnesses, still were able to combine for 15 kills, establishing the groundwork for what would be a phenomenal comeback.

After regrouping at the halftime break, the Engineers quickly responded to the challenge, with Zimmerman and Jordan each blasting five kills while Hart picked up an astounding nine digs to drive back the Williams attack and lead the Engineers to a 30-27 triumph, punctuated by the 5’9” Zimmerman defeating and thoroughly humbling the 6’3” Chadwick in three jousts at the net.

The fourth game saw the Engineers build on the momentum swing, this time receiving six kills from Hart and five each from Zimmerman and Clayton, while Reynolds and Hart scooped up six digs each for another 30-27 result.

MIT opened up the fifth game with leads of 3-0 and 10-6 before Williams (6-0) responded to the assault on their home court to knot the contest at 15-15. In extra time, the Engineers were unable to convert either of their match point opportunities, yet staved off four from Williams before the Ephs finally grabbed a 20-18 victory.

Clayton finished with 18 kills and Zimmerman added 14 kills from just 21 swings. Reynolds logged 13 kills and four service aces, while Zimmerman and middle blocker Monika Wrobel ’07 delivered five and two blocks, respectively.

Once again, six Engineers scored double-digits in digs, with Hart and Reynolds leading the way with 20 and 18, while Zimmerman completed another triple-double with 14 digs and 40 assists. Defensive specialist Alice Chou ’05, in her first ever start, added 10 digs to the effort, including several dramatic pickups of Chadwick blasts that helped energize the Engineer comeback.

“It’s tough to be upbeat after a loss, but to come back from two [games] down on the road against a team that was in the Elite Eight last year, to push them to the absolute limit shows what we’re capable of, and what we hope to accomplish later on this season when we see them again,” commented assistant coach Charles Morton ’97.

In the afternoon match, the Engineers were anything but upbeat after the physically and emotionally draining morning battle, coming out horribly flat against a fresh Wellesley side and losing a 20-30 opening game. Fully recognizing the lingering effects of the Williams match, the Engineers quickly regrouped behind five Hart kills, six Jordan digs, and two aces each from Clayton and Reynolds to claim a 30-17 edge.

MIT poured it on in game three, with Hart serving the Engineers to an 8-1 lead, featuring two of her three aces. The Engineer offense this game came from Zimmerman and Briana Stephenson ’07 with five kills each, and the Engineers threatened to hold Wellesley to single digits before a late push rescued them from that embarrassing mark. Clayton ran off seven points on her serve to close at 30-13.

The fourth and final game saw the confident Engineers withstand a desperate push from Wellesley (1-3), as four more Zimmerman kills and three each from Hart and Reynolds paced MIT to a deciding 30-25 victory, and a split on the day that felt very much like two victories.