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The MIT women’s volleyball team won its home tournament for the third consecutive year, defeating Tufts University in the championship match by a score of 30-25, 30-18, 30-20. Along the way, Tech (14-1) also bested Bowdoin and Wesleyan in pool play and Williams in the semifinals during last Friday and Saturday’s MIT Women’s Volleyball Invitational, held in Rockwell Cage.

Tournament MVP and team captain Carrie C. Buchanan ’08 led the Engineers’ defensive effort, tallying 51 digs against Williams in the semifinals to set an Institute record for digs in a match. The 51 digs made Buchanan only the ninth person in Division III history to record at least 50 digs in a five-game match. Her stellar performance also earned her plaudits from the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, who named her the NEWMAC Player of the Week.

The Engineers were without the services of Alexandra T. May ’10, a member of last year’s All-Tournament Team and an Honorable Mention All-American outside hitter, because of a leg injury. Middle hitter Barden E. Cleeland ’10, who returned earlier this season from an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered last year, participated in all four matches but did not yet appear to be at full strength. Despite these setbacks, the three captains — libero Buchanan, outside hitter Rose Zhong ’08, and All-Tournament setter Amanda J. Morris ’08 — led the team to its fifth Invitational title.

Businesslike start to pool play

MIT opened with a quick 30-22, 30-23, 30-15 victory over Bowdoin in pool play in the Championship Bracket last Friday afternoon. The match was so businesslike, in fact, that only a few dozen fans had settled in to watch the 4 p.m. competition by the time it concluded.

The highlight of the match was MIT’s 12-point run in the third game: with Jennifer Li ’11 serving, Tech pushed a close 12-9 game out of reach in running the score to 24-9. The stretch included back-to-back blocks by Cleeland, as well as a host of sloppy play by the Polar Bears.

Middle hitter Katherine C. Rowe ’10, who entered the tournament with a team-leading 3.74 kills per game, and opposite hitter Katrina M. Ellison ’10 both contributed eight kills, while Cleeland totaled five blocks. Morris, the team’s starting setter and last year’s Tournament MVP, added 31 assists, 16 digs, and three aces.

Speedy victory against Wesleyan

Last Friday’s nighttime match against Wesleyan showed a marked improvement in attendance and fan fervor, and the Engineers didn’t disappoint in posting a 30-26, 30-21, 30-15 win. After a particularly well-placed dink by Ellison in the first game, Tech’s fans — who arrived bearing homemade signs and wearing hats of deconstructed volleyballs and foam fingers — shouted, “Number eight is super great!”

Rowe had another stellar match in recording 12 kills and proved particularly lethal in pounding spikes down the line. Morris displayed her usual setting prowess in racking up 27 assists to go with five blocks, while Buchanan recorded 12 digs.

Marathon win over Williams

Tech pulled out a nail-biter against New England Small College Athletic Conference power Williams, overcoming a 3-8 deficit in the decisive fifth game to win 30-17, 32-34, 30-22, 26-30, 25-13 last Saturday afternoon. In the most exciting game of the tournament, libero Buchanan racked up her record-breaking 51 digs, never shying away from the floor and frequently somersaulting head over heels to save the point.

After the first game ended 30-17, the Engineers appeared to be on their way to a routine semifinal victory. However, Williams had other ideas in overcoming a 20-15 deficit and fighting off four game points. While leading 33-32, Williams capitalized on MIT’s inability to finish the game with a strong spike.

MIT was all business in the third game, exhibiting a renewed intensity in breaking open a 13-12 game to 22-15 in the blink of an eye. The Ephs never seriously threatened, and MIT finished off the game 30-22.

The match’s seesaw trend continued in the fourth game, as Williams led early, only to see MIT scratch its way back to a 21-18 advantage. A series of hitting errors, poor returns, and Ephs kills led to another reversal of fortune, as Williams held a game point at 29-26. A Tech miscommunication caused a floater to drop at Buchanan’s feet, and both teams readied themselves for the fifth game.

Williams opened up the decisive game with a kill, quickly running up an 8-3 lead. However, Williams’ Nicole Ballon-Landa served into the net, and after that Cleeland took over the game. After two consecutive point-ending spikes and two consecutive blocks, MIT had knotted the score at eight apiece. Williams managed a 12-9 lead, but MIT recorded the next three points to tie again at 12. At 14-13, defensive specialist Lindsay E. Hunting ’09 hit a ball off of Whitney Hitchcock to win the game.

The statistics lines for the match were particularly impressive; in addition to Buchanan’s 51 digs, Zhong and Catherine Melnikow ’10 added 20 apiece. Rowe and Zhong each recorded 16 kills, Morris had 58 assists, and Cleeland tallied 12 blocks.

Superior play in finals

An Ellison spike completed the Engineers’ final match against Tufts University, running the score to 30-25, 30-18, 30-20, in a Saturday evening match that seemed almost anticlimatic after the drama of the Williams match. This was the second consecutive year that MIT defeated Tufts in the finals of the Invitational.

The first game was the tightest, as Tech trailed for parts of the game before taking the lead for good at 26-25. On game point, Buchanan watched a spike sail out to win the game 30-25.

The rest of the match sailed by as well, as Tech never relinquished control. The Engineers padded their statistics lines, as Zhong recorded her second consecutive double-double with 12 digs and 13 kills. Hunting also tallied 12 digs, while Morris contributed 43 assists.

MIT takes the court today for two matches against Bridgewater and Brockport. The first match starts at 4 p.m. in Rockwell Cage.