Women's Volleyball: Warriors Dispatch USM, Clinch No. 1 Seed in Little East Playoffs

On a day when the team's four seniors -- Carly Balskus, Jackie Orlowski, Caryn Sibiskie, and Leah Sopneski -- and their families were honored, the Warriors nailed down their first Little East Conference regular-season championship in 12 years.
On a day when the team's four seniors -- Carly Balskus, Jackie Orlowski, Caryn Sibiskie, and Leah Sopneski -- and their families were honored, the Warriors nailed down their first Little East Conference regular-season championship in 12 years.

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – The Eastern Connecticut State University women's volleyball team made sure that there would no drama involved in its quest for the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Little East Conference playoffs by vanquishing the University of Southern Maine in 66 minutes on the final day of the regular season Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium. Set scores were 25-20, 25-17, 25-12.

By winning its eighth home match of the season in nine tries (all in sweeps), Eastern (21-6, 7-1 LEC) finished with a piece of its first conference regular-season title in 12 years. Eastern shares the regular-season title with three-time defending playoff champion UMass Boston, but earned the No. 1 seed by beating the Beacons in the regular-season head-to-head matchup in three sets Sept. 21 at Boston.

Eastern and UMass Boston gain first-round playoff byes, and Eastern will host the  semifinals and final Friday and Saturday at Geissler Gym. The Warriors will play Friday's second semifinal game 45 minutes after the conclusion of the first semifinal match, which involves  UMass Boston at 5:30. The Warriors await the winner of a first-round match Tuesday between #4 Western Connecticut and #5 Rhode Island College.

After winning its 20th match of the season against Southern Maine (15-13, 3-5 LEC) for the first time in seven years, Eastern swept the College of Mount Saint Vincent in a non-conference match by scores of 25-21, 25-19, 25-18.

Needing a victory to nail down a playoff spot, Southern Maine did not qualify after sharing sixth place with a Plymouth State University team which defeated the Huskies during the regular season.

In a spirited first set against Southern Maine which included 11 ties and three lead changes, the Warriors pulled away from a 19-18 lead by scoring four straight points on a kill by sophomore Abby Stern (Manchester), service ace by sophomore Alaetra Long (Lincoln, NE) and consecutive kills by six-foot freshman Anna Barry (Andover).

Led by Barry and senior Caryn Sibiskie (Rockfall), Eastern attacked at .289 in the opening set, with USM managing just .132. Barry had six kills and a .750 attack percentage and Sibiskie three kills and a .600 attack percentage.

At left: The Eastern bench rejoices after Abby Stern's clinching kill put the finishing touches on a sweep of Southern Maine and a first Little East Conference playoff No. 1 seed in 12 years. (Photo by Sara Pisanellli.)

In six sets on the afternoon, five players collected double-digit kills, led by Stern (20) and Barry (18). Senior Carly Balskus (Hebron) chipped in 15 kills with a team-leading .344 attack percentage, Long added 14 and Sibiskie ten.

Freshman libero Madison Bell (Salem) was one of four players with at least 20 digs. She had 26, with junior Mckenzie Maneggia (Andover) and Stern digging up 23 and Long 22. On the day, Eastern committed only six reception errors on 100 attempts. Bell was 28-of-29, Stern 31-of-33 and Long was perfect on 25 attempts.

 While the Warriors were playing near-perfect defense, they forced 19 reception errors by their opponent. Stern totaled seven service aces, and Bell and Balskus four each. Senior Leah Sopneski (Deep River) and Maneggia split setting chores, with Maneggia collecting 39 assists and Sopneski 34.

In addition to her offense, Sibiskie amassed eight blocks – two of them solos – in helping the Warriors to 18 as a team. Balskus and senior Jackie Orlowski (Woodstock) each chipped in four assists.