CHICOPEE, Mass. – No Southern Vermont College athletics team had ever defeated Elms College in playoff action at a Blazers' facility until the No. 3 Mountaineers upset the second-seeded hosts 3-2 in a New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) women's volleyball semifinal match Friday night at Picknelly Arena.
SVC won the opening set 25-18 before being edged 25-23 in the second. Elms then took the third by a 25-15 margin, but the Mountaineers came back and held off the Blazers for a 25-21 victory in the fourth. Southern Vermont took an early lead in the final frame and remained in front to win it 15-12 and secure a spot in the league's championship match.
The Mountaineers (20-6) will head to top-seeded Eastern Nazarene College on Sunday for a 2 p.m. finals bout. SVC recently fell 3-2 to the Lions in a hard-fought regular season contest on October 27. Sunday will be Southern Vermont's first championship appearance since 2013 when the team capped an NECC three-peat.
The win is the first playoff victory over Elms at a Blazer venue for any of the nine Mountaineer teams that partake in head-to-head action in eight all-time contests in Chicopee. SVC programs are only 14-72 (.163) in overall matchups at EC, but Southern Vermont improves to 6-8 in postseason tilts against Elms with women's volleyball's Friday win.
The Mountaineers had fallen 3-1 at EC during the regular season and were bested 3-2 in last year's semifinal match at Picknelly.
"Elms is a phenomenal team with a ton of weapons," said SVC second-year head coach Pat Robidoux. "They are great defensively and have some tremendous servers. We knew going into the match that grit was going to determine the outcome—so a ton of our emphasis was put on that. We are so happy to finally be on the other end of a match like this as we left that gym heartbroken in our past two appearances. We also had unbelievable support from our loyal fan base which really kept us in the match."
A pair of Mountaineers tallied double-doubles with junior Taryn Higareda (Rosemead, Calif.) notching 12 kills and 11 digs while senior captain Liv Sowles (Sacramento, Calif.) had 11 kills and 18 digs; Higareda added four aces to her line. Senior libero Heidy Benitez (Tulare, Calif.) notched 40 digs and five aces—including four aces in the final set. Junior Meg Maddalena (Portola, Calif.) tied the team-high of 12 kills and also chalked up four digs and two solo blocks on the night.
In the rematch of 2017's NECC semifinal, SVC went on top 10-7 before Elms came back to take a minor edge in the opening game. Southern Vermont won five of the next six, however, with Higareda notching a kill and an ace. The Mountaineers closed out the set with a 7-2 run aided by kills from three players.
Seven consecutive points put the Blazers on top 8-2 in the second, but SVC was able to come back and get within one midway through the frame. Higarda continued her stellar night by putting down three kills during a 6-1 run which tied it at 21-21, and she then served up an ace to even things once again at 23-23. The Blazers would take the next two points, however, to even the night at one set apiece.
An early SVC timeout in the third couldn't stop Elms from pulling away later in the frame to go up 2-1 in the match. Six unanswered points led to the Blazers going on an 11-2 run and pushing the difference into double digits. EC made five errors during a 6-2 Mountaineer spurt which caused the hosts to take a stoppage ahead 20-14, but Elms returned to the court and won five of the next seven to win the game.
With its season on the line, Southern Vermont faced the adversity head on and was able to extend the match. The Mountaineers snagged the first four points behind a pair of Sowles kills, but EC burned a timeout and stayed close for most of the set. Up 16-15, SVC rattled off four straight with Higareda and Maddalena each notching a kill. Points went back-and-forth the rest of the way before junior Abby Landon (South Glens Falls, N.Y.) put down a final kill to force the decisive fifth.
Both of the Mountaineers' defensive rows were strong in the front end of the final frame as they were able to turn scramble plays into points. After Benitez's third ace of the set made it a 6-1 lead, Elms came back to get within two. Points were traded until EC split an SVC timeout to make it a one-point game with a 4-1 run. Higareda knocked down a kill after the stoppage, however, and Benitez then got her final ace for the Mountaineers to celebrate.
– #LetsGoSVC –