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Women's Volleyball Beats Four Top Teams to Win Tournament

By Travis Johnson
SPORTS EDITOR

For the second consecutive year the MIT women’s volleyball team emerged from a strong field of 13 other schools to win last weekend’s MIT Invitational Tournament.

The Engineers won four matches, sweeping the first three against Bridgewater State College, Colby College, and Williams College, and defeating Tufts University (30–13, 19–30, 30–20, 30–27) in the championship match.

MIT’s opponents were only close in three of the 13 games over the weekend, the third game against Colby, the third against Williams and the second and fourth against Tufts. The Engineers prevailed in three of these, lost 19–30 in the second Tufts game, and won the other 10 games by an average margin of 11.9 points.

Amanda J. Morris ’08 set her way to tournament MVP, keeping her poise and timing throughout the long weekend and emerging as an on-the-floor leader for the team.

Middle hitter Alexandra T. May ’10 continued her hot first season with a performance this weekend that prompted an all-tournament team award. May and fellow freshman Barden E. Cleeland ’10 have quickly emerged as Morris’ primary weapons.

The Engineers started the tournament on Friday against two teams they faced in last year’s NCAA tournament: Bridgewater State and Colby College. Last season, they beat Bridgewater State but lost to Colby College. This season, MIT beat both, starting with a 30–14, 30–20, 30–19 win over Bridgewater State.

Three Rotations Each Beat Colby

Colby College was MIT’s second victim, and the Engineers dominated play from the start. Using its top rotation of players in the first game, MIT jumped out to a 4–0 lead and never looked back, cruising to a 30–11 win.

As they did throughout the tournament, the front line of May, Cleeland, and Frances M. Rogoz ’07 controlled play with their frequent blocks, high hitting percentage, and spiking loose balls hanging in the air above the net.

Feeling in control of the match, Coach Paul Dill played his second rotation, starting Ellen E. Sojka ’08 in the second game. It took the new line a while to start working well together, and Colby’s Cassie Sancartier took advantage, using her jumping serve. The Engineers had trouble getting their side out offense working off her serve and Colby went on a 7–0 run to take a 3–9 lead.

After a slow start, MIT’s offense improved dramatically and allowed the White Mules to hold serve only three times for the rest of the game. With side outs coming quickly, MIT was able to slowly creep back into contention, eventually tying the Mules 13–13. After sparring to a 19–19 tie, Rogoz, Cleeland, and Sojka took over and led their team to a 30–25 win.

Coach Dill dipped further into the bench for the third game against Colby playing yet another lineup. Neither team could take control of the match until Colby grabbed a 23–27 lead late. Dill took Morris out, presumably to rest her for a possible fourth game. But back-up setter Catherine Melnikow ’10 played well and led MIT on a 6–0 run which eventually led to a 30–28 win.

MIT Gives Williams First Loss

Saturday began with a semifinal match against the 10–0 Williams Ephs. Cleeland set the tone early with a kill, tip, and block that established her presence at the net. The Engineers took their first serious lead 14–9 with a four point run keyed by excellent serves from Lindsay E. Hunting ’08. The lead slowly extended until the game ended 30–21.

The side out offense played particularly well in the 30–20 second game win for MIT, allowing only six held serves and keeping the longest Ephs run at three points. Libro Carrie C. Buchanan ’08, Hunting and May consistently dug well, getting the ball to Morris in a good place to run MIT’s variety of plays.

Williams stepped up the intensity in the third game, playing point for point with MIT through a 21–21 tie. A block by Cleeland and Alexandra N. Huston-Carico ’08 and a kill by Cleeland were part of a five point run that appeared to put the game out of reach for the Ephs at 26–21. But Williams fought back yet again and got within 1 at 29–28 when a block by May and Briana J. Stephenson ’07 ended the game and sent MIT to the finals.

Engineers Outlast Tufts for Title

MIT made it look easy in the first game against Tufts, playing mistake free volleyball to jump out to a 7–1 lead and coast to a 30–13 win. Both Morris and the hitters timed their tips (soft shots targeted at empty areas of the floor) perfectly and kept Tufts blocking off guard.

The second game was a total reversal for Tufts. The Jumbos’ Katie Wysham built her team’s enthusiasm with three early kills that helped Tufts build a 3–8 lead. MIT was never able to get within fewer than four for the rest of the game. The Engineers lost focus towards the end and Tufts rolled to a 19–30 win.

Momentum swung back to the MIT players in the third game when their blocking game returned. Two blocks by Cleeland and Huston-Carico within a minute of each other put MIT ahead 15–7. Both teams had a few hits during the final point of the match before Stephenson put it away with a powerful kill.

It looked like the fourth game would be another relatively easy win for the Engineers when they built a 29–23 lead, but the Jumbos wouldn’t give up and scored five straight points that got their fans involved and MIT fans wondering if their team was going to have a Red Sox-proportioned crumble. Rogoz ended their concern when her hit landed perfectly in the corner and brought her teammates screaming onto the court in celebration.

Winning the tournament is a serious accomplishment on its own and a good sign of the season to come. Morris has filled the setting role well and has a great group of defenders and attackers around her that will make MIT tough to beat.