Blue Volleyball's Season Comes To A Close With NCAA Setback To Wesleyan (Conn.)

Wellesley is now 17-13 all-time in NCAA tournament matches (Paul Rutherford).
Wellesley is now 17-13 all-time in NCAA tournament matches (Paul Rutherford).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Wesleyan University (Conn.) earned a 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-22) victory over Wellesley College volleyball in the First Round of the 2017 NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Championship on Friday evening at the Wildcat Center on the campus of Johnson & Wales University.

In the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the two institutions, NESCAC Champion Wesleyan improved to 22-5 overall and 2-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament matches. The Cardinals will play Johnson & Wales or Elms in tomorrow's second regional semifinal. 

Wellesley ends the season with a 22-7 overall record and is now 17-13 all-time in NCAA Tournament play. The Blue were making the program's 12th NCAA Tournament appearance and the 11th under Head Coach Dorothy Webb. 

First year Harper Graves (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) recorded a double double to lead the Cardinals, finishing the match with 10 kills and 10 digs. Sophomore Stasie Litinsky (Evanston, Ill.) had a match-high 11 kills and classmate Nicole Hilton (Wantagh, N.Y.) chipped in with 10 kills of her own. First year Phia Bellizzi (Ladera Ranch, Calif.) finished with a match-high 23 digs and sophomore setter Kaira Muraoka-Robertson (Los Angeles, Calif.) led all players with 39 assists. 

Junior setter Michelle Li (Scarsdale, N.Y.) tallied 29 assists and 13 digs to lead Wellesley. First year Lauren Gedney (Huntersville, N.C.) had nine kills, while juniors Yasmine Reece (New Rochelle, N.Y.) and Samantha Ostenso (Hopkins, Minn.) added eight and seven kills, respectively. The Blue struggled on offense until the third set and ended the game with a .167 attacking percentage.

The Cardinals hit .386 with 19 kills in an impressive first set performance. Wesleyan had leads of 7-3 and 12-6 in the early going, eventually moving ahead by a 23-11 margin. The Blue countered with a 5-0 run, forcing a Wesleyan timeout after cutting the lead to 23-16. However, back-to-back kills from Litinsky and sophomore Gabby Bennett (Chicago, Ill.) ended the opening set, 25-16, in favor of the Cardinals. 

Wellesley opened the second set with a 5-2 lead, getting kills from first years Nikki Jensen (Castro Valley, Calif.) and Darina Postupaka (Tinley Park, Ill.) as part of the run. Wesleyan rallied to tie the score for the third time, 6-6, in a set that would feature nine tie scores and seven lead changes. The Blue battled to leads of 7-6 and 12-10, before taking a 15-13 lead following three consecutive Wesleyan errors. The Cardinals countered with a 7-0 run, turning the two-point deficit into a 20-15 lead. Wesleyan went on to score five of the final eight points to take a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-18 set win.

Trailing 5-2 in set three, the Blue used a 7-1 run to take a 9-6 lead following a Wesleyan error. Back-to-back Blue blunders made the score 9-8, but kills from Ostenso and Postupaka pushed the Wellesley advantage to 11-8. With Wellesley now leading 14-11, Wesleyan tied the match, getting a big block from Muraoka-Robertson and Hilton to tie the score, 14-14. Nothing changed over the next 10 points, as the teams remained tied 19-19. However, the Cardinals seized the late momentum, taking a 22-19 edge en route to closing out a 25-22 final on a kill by Hilton.