SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Trailing 2-0 going into the third set, volleyball clawed their way back to force a fourth set, unfortunately, the Beacons rally would not hold-up as the top-seeded Pride of Springfield College (34-2) defeated UMass Boston (28-5) three sets to one to win the 2011 NCAA Division III East Regional title Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 700 fans.
The win and championship is the first in the history of Springfield College volleyball. Last season, the Pride was defeated by the Beacons 3-2 in the championship match, which earned UMass the program's first NCAA Championship berth.
Leading Springfield to the win was tournament MVP Tessa Smolinksi who was 18-for-36 with only one error against for a .472 hitting percentage. Along with All-Tournament selection Lauren Torvi the duo carried the Pride to the 3-1 victory.
For the Beacons, Shannon Thompson (Moorpark, Calif.) was one of four players to finish in double-figures in kills and digs. She ended the match with a double-double of 18 kills and 14 digs. Brooke Nemethy (Ovieda, Fl.) also had a double-double as she finished with a combined 10 kills and 14 digs.
Senior Molly Rattigan (Dorchester, Mass.) closed out her collegiate volleyball career, with another strong performance as she hit a team best .304 on the night. Going into the tournament, Rattigan was ranked fourth in the country in hitting percentage. Classmate Cassy Hanneman (Denver, Co.) posted 49 assists on 134 attempts, and played a major part in sparking the Beacons third-set rally. Defensively, Hanneman led the team with 18 digs.
Truly the difference in Sunday's match-up was Springfield's ability to take advantage of every offensive possession as they hit .312 on 51-of-141. They were also nearly mistake free tallying just seven attack errors in the match. The Pride was also strong at the net as they combined for 20 blocks (6 solo, 14 assists). Libero Itza Nieves led the match with 27 digs to lead the Pride's defensive effort.
UMass struggled to find any offensive rhythm in Sunday's match as they were charged with a season-high 29 attack errors. They were also 60-for-170 in kills to end the four-set battle with .182 attack percentage.
Springfield, who rallied in yesterday's semi-final against Tufts University dominated the first set, allowing UMass to only tie the score a total of three times. In the second, the two teams traded points, but it was the Pride who would pull out the 28-26 win. Moving into the third, UMass that they had to give everything they had to keep their championship dreams alive. In the one set alone there was five lead changes and the score was tied a total of 13 times. The Beacons went on to power past Springfield to earn the 25-21 victory.
That win, would shift the momentum back to the Beacons but the fourth set would once again turn out to be a back-and-forth battle between the two top teams in New England. Even with a lead for most of the set, Springfield would not go down quietly. After scoring three straight points to tie it at 17-17, UMass would score two more points to jump out to a 19-17 lead.
Springfield would rally again to tie the score at 20-20. After another two point spark by the Beacons, the Pride would go on to score five unanswered points to earn the victory 22-25.
For UMass their 2011 season comes to a close on a tough not, but there is much to be excited for next season. With the return of Thompson, LEC Rookie of the Year Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.), and all-conference selection Corrine Porter (Huntington Beach, Calif.) head coach Terry Condon will have her eyes set on the NCAA Regional tournament in 2012. The Beacons capped off 2011 by earning a program first 17th ranking in the AVCA National Coaches Poll, and a 22-match win streak. They also claimed their third LEC regular season and tournament title.