SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – No one ever said the road to the championship was going to be easy, especially when you face a team with everything prove and nothing to lose. In the semi-final round of the regional tournament the 19th ranked Beacons (28-4) were pushed to their limits as they pulled out a five-set (23-25, 25-15, 17-25, 25-18, 15-7) win over 24th ranked Bowdoin College (27-3) Saturday afternoon in the James Naismith Arena on the campus of Springfield College.
With Saturday's win, UMass Boston advances to the championship match of the 2011 NCAA Division III regional tournament for the second straight year. The Beacons will face the winner of the Springfield College/Tufts University match.
After edging Bowdoin in the fourth set 25-18, the two teams squared off for the fifth and final frame, with the championship match on the line. Bowdoin would come out to score the first point of the decisive fifth set. UMass would respond with four straight points to take a 4-1 lead over the Polar Bears. Of their first four points, only was earned by the Beacons, an ace by Kayla Wilson (San Jose, Calif.).
A block by Bowdoin cut UMass' lead to two (4-2), but that would only last for a moment as the Beacons scored five unanswered points to make it 9-2. With their eyes beginning to turn to tomorrow's championship, the Beacons would once again take advantage of key errors by the Polar Bears to extend their lead to 11-4.
Down but not out, the Polar Bears began to close the gap on the scoreboard, unfortunately it was too little too late, as the Beacons held off the rally, and secured the win with a Shannon Thompson (Moorpark, Calif.) kill off of a Frana Burtness-Adams (Fairbanks, Ak.) assist.
Burtness-Adams actually served the final three Beacons points, with two coming from Thompson and the other from senior Molly Rattigan (Dorchester, Mass.).
On the afternoon, UMass hit .192 and scored 53 kills on 178 attempts, while giving up 25 errors. For Bowdoin, they managed 50 kills on 166 attempts, and were charged with 29 errors in the five set battle. Thompson was dominant for the Beacons scoring a match-high 21 kills on 67 attempts. Rattigan was dominant as well hitting .438 on 8-of-16 hitting.
Cassy Hanneman paced the Beacons offense with 48 assists, and also helped to secure the defense with a combined 11 digs. Thompson also posted a double-double as she recorded a 15 digs. Junior libero Kayla Wilson (San Jose, Calif.) was all over the court for UMass coming up with 25 digs. Freshman Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.) continued her strong play, especially at the net as she tallied a match high six blocks (1 solo, 5 assists).
For Bowdoin, their first NCAA semi-final tournament appearance saw Melissa Haskell finish with 13 kills, while Ellie Brennan tallied 12. Sophia Cornew tallied 43 assists and Taylor Vail combined for 25 digs.
In the first set, the two teams came out swinging. Bowdoin, riding the momentum from their first-ever NCAA tournament win yesterday, gained a four-point lead over UMass midway through the set. The Beacons would battle back, but with a late push by the Polar Bears would fall 25-23.
The second set was all UMass from start to finish as they cruised to a 25-15 victory. After another Bowdoin rally, UMass would go on to outscore their opponent 17-5 to earn the 25-15 victory. The roles reversed in the third set, with Bowdoin controlling it from the opening serve. They would eventually win it by the final of 25-17.
Needing to tie the match, the Beacons had to dig deep and with another strong push would edge the Polar Bears 25-18. Thompson would set up the match point on another strong kill. The set point would be determined on a ball handling error, which would tie the score at 2-2.
Volleyball will now face either Tufts University, who they defeated 3-2 earlier in the season, or Springfield College, who they defeated in last year's championship match tomorrow at 4 p.m.