NEW LONDON, Conn. – For the second straight year the Beacons had to put together a complete team performance to earn a spot in the NCAA Regional tournament, which they did in the form of a 3-2 win over the host Camels of Connecticut College Saturday evening in front of a loud and energetic crowd.
The victory pushed the Beacons to their third straight championship match, which is scheduled to be played at 4 p.m. tomorrow. UMass Boston will face the same team they had to go to five-sets with last season in Bowdoin College. The Polar Bears defeated the reigning regional champs in Springfield College in Saturday's first match by the final of 3-2.
Sunday's contest will mark the third time this season that the two teams have faced each other, with Bowdoin winning both of those contests, 3-0 and 3-1. The winner of tomorrow's match will earn a spot in the NCAA National Tournament, which will be played in Holland, Michigan.
On the day, UMass hit a combined .250 scoring 62 kills on 163 attempts. Senior Shannon Thompson (Moorpark, Calif.) proved to be the driving force for the second-straight day as she threw down a match-high 24 kills.
Even with Thompson's match-changing performance all of UMass Boston's hitters played a tremendous part in the five-set victory. Sophomore Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.) scored seven kills on 14 attempts to post a team-best .429 hitting percentage. Molly Witzmann (Encinitas, Calif.) finished second on the team with nine kills, followed by the duo of Corrine Porter (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and Amber Clemons (Simi Valley, Calif.) who each recorded eight throw-downs.
Setter Emma Rocha (Boynton Beach, Fla.) was also solid for all five sets as she tallied 34 assists, while fellow setter Megan Pollock (Wilton, Calif.) total 18 assists to help fuel the consistent play of the hitters.
Defensively UMass looked to senior libero Kayla Wilson (San Jose, Calif.) to lead the back row, as she posted a team-high 23 digs. Porter finished second behind the defensive specialist with her 14 digs, followed by Rocha who had 12. At the net the 6'2" senior led the Beacons with one solo block and five block assists. Morrison was just as strong with her four block assists.
In the opening set UMass had control for the most part, jumping out to an early three point lead (5-2). The Camels continued to nip at the heels of the Beacons but were never able to surpass them on the scoreboard. UMass would later jump out to a five point lead, which unfortunately did not last as Connecticut College put together a serious run tying the Beacons at 18-18. From there the two would exchange points back-and-forth. Even with the late rally in favor of the Camels the first set went to UMass by the final of 25-22, on a service error by Caroline Martin.
Connecticut would use that late rally to run away with the second set, never once allowing UMB to go on a run of their own. The Camels would ultimately cruise to a 25-21 win to tie the match at 1-1. The third set from start to finish was a battle of wills. Every time UMB would get a kill off, Connecticut would respond in-kind with a kill of their own.
Following a Morrison kill which put UMB up 16-15, the Camels dug deep and fired off five straight points to take a 20-15 lead. They would then hold off the Beacons to earn the 25-20 decision and take a 2-1 lead.
Knowing they needed just one more set to secure a spot in tomorrow's championship match with the home crowd supporting them, the two teams stepped back onto the hardwood. However the Camels learned real fast why UMass Boston has been so successful over the last three seasons, especially when their backs are up against the wall.
UMB would put on a clinic in the fourth set, which completely took the wind out of the Camels and their fans sails. At one point UMass held an eight point lead over the home team. However down but not out Connecticut began to claw back and close the gap between them and the Beacons. UMass would once again take advantage of a slew of Camels errors and with a kill by Thompson forced the fifth and final set with a 25-18 victory.
The fifth set was perhaps the craziest set the Beacons played in all season long. Each squad would score their first points, setting the tone early. Connecticut would then take a two point lead on a UMB attack error and service error. UMB would then tie the match at 3-3 on kills from Thompson and Morrison.
Connecticut quickly retook a two-point lead following another set of errors by the Beacons, but just like before UMB answered with a pair of points of their own to tie it at 5-5. The score would then go back and forth between the two exhausted squads, with UMass hitting eight points first on the scoreboard.
After the two squads switched sides, Connecticut got a burst of energy to take an 11-8 lead. Knowing that four more Camel points would end their season, the Beacons kicked it into high gear and tied the Connecticut at 11-11. Unfortunately that momentum was stopped by the Camels who put rattled off three straight points to get into a match point situation (14-11). As if though things could not get any crazier, UMass did it again scoring three points to tie it at 14-14. Connecticut then moved to 15-14 on a Andrea Mullaney kill. UMass responded with a kill of their own from Thompson to tie it at 15-15. The two teams would find themselves tied at 16-16. A pair of errors by the Camels would clinch the victory for the Beacons and bring an end to one of the most intense matches played in the NCAA regional tournament.