WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – After losing the fourth set, the Plymouth State University women's volleyball team had Eastern Connecticut State University right where it wanted it in the semifinals of the 2019 Little East Conference tournament Thursday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
In a decisive fifth set.
A winner of five of six five-set decisions this year, third-seeded Plymouth State University (32-4) made it six of seven with a 25-17, 24-26, 25-20, 16-25, 15-7 victory over second-seeded and defending champion Eastern (14-12), which had twice come back from a set down.
Plymouth, which was denied the outright LEC regular-season championship when it was swept by Eastern five days ago, handed the Warriors their fourth five-set loss in six tries and will host Saturday's championship game after top-seeded Western Connecticut was upended in five sets in Thursday's other semifinal by fourth-seeded University of Massachusetts Boston.
Plymouth is 1-5 in championship games, winning its only title in 2004 over Eastern Connecticut. UMass is making its ninth appearance in the final in 11 years, having won the championship in all eight of its previous appearances.
Eastern outscored Plymouth 10-2 to pull away in the fourth set and force a decisive fifth set. Eastern never led in the fifth set and Plymouth took command by scoring four straight points to break a 4-4 tie and move out to an 8-4 lead, with Eastern never able to get closer than three points.
After committing an attack error on an Eastern block which allowed Eastern to tie the match at 4-all, senior outside Lex Bowers put her team ahead for good, 5-4, when she buried a set from sophomore Alexa Price. Eastern then committed two ball-handling errors and an attack error around its own timeout as the Panthers built their four-point, 8-4 lead.
Eastern attacked at .000 in the season-ending fifth-set loss, while Bowers and junior outside Francie Shaffer combined for five kills.
After attacking at a season-best .352 in the regular-season win over Plymouth, the Warriors attacked at .168 and committed nine reception errors, six service errors and four ball-handling errors.
Shaffer and Bowers each had 16 kills and freshman Emilee Flanagan chipped in ten kills and three service aces in Plymouth's balanced attack. Price put up 51 assists. Senior libero Alisha Flanagan had 27 digs, sophomore outside Brooke Beaudet 21 and sophomore defensive specialist Hannah Chartier 11.
Sophomore middle Anna Barry (Andover) led Eastern with 15 kills and a .289 attack percentage, junior outside Abby Stern (Manchester) adding 14 kills and three service aces and junior outside Alaetra Long (Lincoln, NE) 11 kills. Senior middle Lydia Niderno (Willington) added nine kills and a .286 attack percentage. Sophomore libero Madison Bell (Salem) topped Eastern with 23 digs and cleanly handled 24 of 25 serve receives, with Long adding 16, Stern 12 and senior setter Mckenzie Maneggia (Andover) totaling 13 digs and 28 assists.