Chris Kendrick (@CKendrick86)
CHICOPEE, Mass. – Top-seeded Elms College overcame fourth-seeded Southern Vermont College in five sets, 3-2 (25-19, 23-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-10), in a New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Women's Volleyball Championship Semifinal match at Picknelly Arena Friday night.
The Blazers (18-9) will make the program's first appearance in an NECC Championship match since the inaugural title match in 2008. The Mountaineers (9-19) wrapped up action for the 2017 season.
In the first set, the Blazers held an early 9-4 advantage behind strikes from juniors Danielle Redding (Las Vegas, N.V.) and Rachel Magnuson (Miller Place, N.Y.) and freshman Ayanna Meadows (Springfield, Mass.). After a 5-1 run by Southern Vermont closed the gap to 14-9, Redding rattled off a trio of kills to rebuild a 19-11 lead. The Mountaineers used an ace from sophomore Abigail Landon (South Glen Falls, N.Y.), along with a kill from freshman Nikki Ramirez (West Covina, Calif.) to attempt a final comeback, but the Blazers capitalized on Southern Vermont errors, and then an ace from freshman Hayley Castanos (Santa Ana, Calif.) to capture the 25-19 win.
Play was close in the second set as the sides exchanged the lead three times. Tied 8-8, Redding notched back-to-back kill to give Elms a 10-9 lead, but Southern Vermont responded with a 5-2 run, featuring two kills from Ramirez, to hold a 14-12 edge. Ramirez and junior Liv Sowles (Sacramento, Calif.) registered two kills each to help the Mountaineers maintain a 21-17 lead. Redding delivered two kills to work at the deficit, but errors down the stretch assisted Southern Vermont to the 25-23 win.
The Mountaineers led nearly the entire third set, using Elms errors to possess an 8-3 lead, and Ramirez served up two aces to push the advantage to 12-3. Redding sandwiched kills around tallies from Ramirez and SVC senior Julia Florence (Salem, Mass.) as the Mountaineers escorted the lead to 18-11. Southern Vermont took advantage of late Elms errors, but Redding slammed three kills in a late rally to make it 23-16. Ramirez secured the 25-18 win with the final two kills.
The Blazers led 8-4 in the fourth set behind two kills from Meadows, but three straight kills from Ramirez evened the set at 8-8. After back-to-back strikes from Redding, the Mountaineers used a 5-0 run to gain a 13-10 edge. Kills from Magnuson and freshman Dakota Stewart (Victoria, Texas) helped Elms even the score at 15-15, and then an ace from Meadows and a double block from Stewart and classmate Hannah Pichardo (South Glen Falls, N.Y.) pushed the Blazers ahead 19-16. Southern Vermont came back to tie the set at 22-22, but Redding forced a fifth set with three consecutive kills to lock up the 25-22 win.
Elms led throughout the final set, harnessing a 6-3 lead after a tally from Pichardo. An ace from Southern Vermont junior Heidy Benitez (Tulare, Calif.) put the Mountaineers within a point, 8-7, Magnuson and Castanos went back-to-back to put Elms on top 11-8. The Blazers held the edge with strikes from Magnuson and Pichardo, and then Meadows slammed the final kill to send Elms to the Championship match.
Redding powered the Blazers attack with a match-high 24 kills and 20 digs. Stewart dished out a match-high 46 assists with 21 digs for her 17th double-double of the season. Meadows grabbed 20 digs with eight kills and two aces, while Pichardo notched seven kills. Magnuson had six kills, while junior Caroline Locke (West Springfield, Mass.) snared 21 digs in the win.
Two Mountaineers recorded double-digit kills, led by a team-high 16 kills from Ramirez. Ramirez added 19 digs, while Sowles posted 14 kills and 16 digs. Benitez tallied a match-high 27 digs, and Landon registered 31 assists.
The Blazers will face second-seeded Lesley University in the Championship match at Picknelly Arena Sunday afternoon.