BOSTON, Mass. -- Led by Eileen Shi, top-seeded and defending champion University of Massachusetts eliminated fourth-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University, 3-1, in the semifinal round of the 2016 Little East Conference women's volleyball tournament Thursday evening at the Clark Athletic Center to advance to the championship match for the sixth time in seven years. UMass won by scores of 25-15, 23-25, 25-13, 25-21.
UMass (27-4) will host second-seeded Plymouth State University Saturday. Plymouth swept third-seeded Western Connecticut State University in Plymouth, NH Thursday evening.
In perhaps their toughest conference match since their five-set win over Plymouth State during the regular season, the Beacons used every tool in their arsenal to hold-off upset-minded Eastern (19-12), which fell a victory shy this year of posting its 27th 20-win season in program history. The Warriors were coming off Tuesday's first-round sweep of fifth-seeded Keene State College, which was eliminated in straight sets by UMass Boston in last year's title match. UMB had drawn a first-round bye as the regular-season champion.
After an error filled first set which saw the Beacons take a 25-15 win, the Warriors came storming back in the second. Despite a late push by UMB, Eastern managed to sneak by with the 25-23 win to even the match.
In the third set, the Beacons came out firing on all cylinders as they hit a match-high .583 to cruise to a 25-13 win. The fourth and final set, was a back-and-forth exchange from the start. Even at 17-all, the Beacons rattled-off four straight points to take a 21-17 lead. The Warriors cut that lead back to three with a kill by senior Kay Mullen (Fairhaven, MA). The Beacons would keep their distance on the next serve, with Shi scoring a thunderous kill to make it 22-18.
After another Warriors kill made it 22-19, the Beacons would take a 23-19 lead moments later, with another huge put down by Shi. The Warriors made it a three point affair two more times, but their chance at a rally fell just short with Shi and Melanie Fyda scoring the final two points to seal the win for the Beacons.
The Beacons attacked at a healthy .280 while Eastern struggled against UMB's significant size advantage, managing a percentage of only .081. Excepting their .208 percentage in their set two win, the Warriors attacked at only .054.
Shi's impressive night consisted of 18 kills and a match-high .483 hitting percentage. She also anchored the Beacons defensive effort with her 17 digs and two block assists. Senior Julia Murphy was the Beacons other big gun as she threw down 14 kills, and was also solid at the net with her two solo blocks and four block assists.
Setters Christina Elliott and Pepper Baker were able to overcome the early match nerves, to combine for 50 assists respectively. Elizabeth Glavan collected a match-high 20 digs in the win, and was solid on every service reception.
For the senior-laden Warriors, senior Adrianna Mihalek (Woodbury) led the squad with 13 kills and .211 hitting percentage and two service aces, with Mullen collecting seven kills and junior Carly Balskus (Hebron) six. Sophomore Leah Sopneski (Deep River) and senior Fabiana Della-Monica (Newark, DE) each recorded 14 assists, while junior libero Michelle Valliere (Lebanon) led the team with 11 digs. Sophomore Jackie Orlowski (Woodstock), whose solid play sparked the win over Keene State, contributed five kills and a .231 attack percentage and was credited with five of the team's 12 blocks.
BY THE NUMBERS
- On the night UMass Boston hit .280 as a team, while the Warriors were held to just .081 hitting
- The Beacons semi-final win marks their second straight, and seventh since the 2008 season
- Thursday's meeting marked the first postseason meeting between Eastern UMass since the 2008 season, when the Beacons earned a 3-0 win in the semi-final round
- All-time Eastern leads the series, 13-10, but the Beacons have won 10 of their last 11 meetings. Last year, the Warriors stunned UMass at Geissler Gym, handing the Beacons their only regular-season conference loss.
- UMass' strong reception percentage kept the Warriors from picking up too many quick points. The Beacons were guilty of only three reception errors.
UMass Boston Sports Information contributed to this game account.