Women's Volleyball: Team Effort Lifts Warriors to Pair of Non-Conference Triumphs

Women's Volleyball: Team Effort Lifts Warriors to Pair of Non-Conference Triumphs

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. --  First-year junior transfer Carly Balskus (Hebron) broke out of a week-long slump by attacking at .389 with only one error on 36 attempts in helping the Eastern Connecticut State University women's volleyball team to victories in both of its Crabtree Tri-Match contests Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.

After attacking in negative digits over three Eastern (11-6) losses last week, Balskus returned to form Saturday, collecting 15 kills – including six straight in the first two sets against Smith College – in helping the Warriors to a sweep of Western New England University (25-19, 25-21, 25-16) and a four-set decision over Smith College (25-12, 25-20, 21-25, 25-18).

Four Eastern players had at least ten kills and four had at least ten digs as the Warriors improved their home record to 6-2.

A six-foot outside hitter who played last season at Division II Southern Connecticut State University, Balskus had seven kills and a .300 attack percentage against Western New England (9-6), and followed up with eight kills in 16 attempts without an error for a season-best .500 attack mark against Smith (3-13).

On the day, junior Michelle Valliere (Lebanon) handled 54 receptions with only three errors, senior outside Adrianna Mihalek (Woodbury) collected 30 kills and senior middle Kay Mullen (Fairhaven, MA) matched Balskus with 15 kills and a .344 attack percentage.

Valliere led the Warriors with 32 digs in seven sets – moving her to within 200 this season -- Mihalek adding 18 and senior Nina Zimmitti (East Hampton) 17. Mihalek was perfect on 24 reception attempts in the two victories. Senior Fabiana Della-Monica (Newark, DE) and sophomore Leah Sopneski (Deep River) combined for 68 assists, Della-Monica leading the way with 37.

In improving to 22-5 in the all-time series with Western New England, the Warriors used a 9-2 scoring run to break open a tight first set. Four different players contributed kills in that decisive run; in the second set, the Wrriors scored four straight to extend a one-ponit lead to five, 19-14. Mihalek and Mullen each had kills in that stretch and junior middle blocker Megan Macomber (South Windsor) contributed two blocks; Eastern closed with a 10-2 run in the nine-point victory in the third set that sealed the match win. Eastern erased an early three-point deficit and after an Eastern attack error left the Warriors with a one-point lead, Mullen, Valliere and Balskus followed with kills -- two of the points set up by Della-Monica assists – top spark the 10-2 rally.

Eastern took a 2-0 lead in sets against Smith, with Balskus contributing three kills when the Warriors broke a late 18-all deadlock. Balskus gave the Warriors the lead for good, 19-18, and after Smith called time, Balskus followed with her fifth straight kills to make it 20-18. Balskus put down her sixth straight to make it 22-18 following a second Smith timeout, and block assists by Mullen and junior middle Caryn Sibiskie (Rockfall) closed out the win.

Smith stayed alive with a third-set triumph that featured Eastern's  -.086 attack percentage before the hosts captured a seven-point decision in the fourth.  Eastern never trailed in the fourth set, moving out to an early 8-2 lead. The decisive sequence occurred after the Pioneers had cut the lead to three when Eastern answered with four straight to open up 15-8 advantage.  Two Smith attack errors,  and kills from Mihalek and Sopneski (her only one of the afternoon), keyed the run.

Eastern begins a run of six straight road matches when it returns to Little East Conference action Tuesday with a 6 p.m. start at Rhode Island College.                        -30-