Digging It

 

Colby volleyball is host for,and wins,New England D-III championship

By Ernie Clark
Photography by Jeff Earickson
 

As they played host to"and won"the 2005 NCAA Division III New England regional tournament at Wadsworth Gymnasium in early November, members of the Colby volleyball team appreciated how far they had come.

"During the regular season we had maybe twenty people at our games," said outside hitter Megan Devlin '06, "and then at the NESCAC finals and the NCAAs both sides of the bleachers were filled. People were talking about our team and about our games all around campus. It was pretty amazing."

Sports Update

FOOTBALL finished second in the NESCAC and won the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin title for the third straight year. Colby, 7-1, won its final four games, including a 28-3 road win over Bowdoin to cap the season. Tight end RODDY AMES "06 earned New England Football Writers Division II/III honors and was first-team all-conference. Co-captain DAN OLIPHANT "06 was named to the first-team offensive line. Running back AARON STEPKA "06, wide receiver MICHAEL TOMICH "06, linebacker ANDREW HEANEY "07, and defensive back MIKE BRACCO "06J all earned NESCAC second-team honors. Stepka finished his career with 3,465 yards and 27 touchdowns. Tomich averaged 20.2 yards per catch and led the Mules in catches and receiving touchdowns, Heaney was second on the team in total tackles, and Bracco led the Mules in total tackles, solo tackles, and interceptions. . . . In men"s soccer, DANIEL KIERNAN "07 earned NESCAC second-team honors as a defender. BOBBY ABENDROTH "06 and CHRIS MACFADYEN "07 led in scoring with five goals and two assists apiece. MONTY HANKIN "06 had four goals and two assists in just nine games following an injury. . . . WOMEN"S CREW placed second at the Textile River Regatta and a best-ever 31st in the championship eight meet at the Head of the Charles Regatta. Colby closed the season beating Bates and Bowdoin in the CBB Fall Head Race on Messalonskee Lake. . . . FIELD HOCKEY, losing key seniors from a NESCAC semifinal team of 2004, finished 5-8, losing a number of tight games. MARY CLARE SNEDIKER "09 earned conference second-team honors along with goaltender JAMIE ENOS "08. . . . For MEN"S TENNIS, BRYAN BROWN "09 advanced to the second round of the 'A" singles flight against Bates"s Will Boe-Wiegaard, one of the top-ranked players in the country. Brown won the first set, lost the second, and fell in a deciding pro set, 10-6, narrowly missing a huge upset. BEN CRANE "06 won the 'B" flight singles title at Bates"s Wallach Invitational. . . . In WOMEN"S TENNIS first singles player TRACY NALE "07 advanced to the second round at the New England Regional Tournament. . . . For the co-ed GOLF team, MATT ASCHAFFENBURG "06, 2004 CBB champion, had the best score for Colby at the NESCAC meet this fall. For complete and updated fall season highlights, go to Colby Online at www.colby.edu/mag/sports_shorts.
30%#Such is life in a championship atmosphere.

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Mariah Daly '06, left, and Kaitlin Adams '06 go up for a block against Tufts en route to winning the NCAA New England regional championships at Colby.
Photo by Jeff Earickson
The Mules recently completed the best season in the 15-year history of the program, winning their first New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title and earning not only their first NCAA bid, but a berth in the national quarterfinals.

"I think I knew we were going to be pretty good," said Colby coach Candice Parent, the 2005 NESCAC coach of the year. "There were a lot of little factors that became big factors. Chemistry's a huge part of it. The energy on our team was so good, and our senior leadership was phenomenal."

The Mules were led by outside hitter Cait Cleaver '06 and middle blocker Kaitlin Adams '06. Cleaver recently was named the program's first All-American, earning third-team recognition from the American Volleyball Coaches Association after ending her career as Colby's leader in kills and defensive digs. Adams, an honorable-mention All-American, led the NESCAC in hitting percentage and was the team's emotional catalyst.

"I think this year, mentally, we're just so much tougher," said Cleaver, who helped the Mules to a 37-4 record in 2005 and a 104-33 record during her four years on Mayflower Hill. "Last year when we made individual mistakes we tended to focus on ourselves and become introspective rather than focusing on each other and getting out of it."

The strength of the Mules' senior class merely heightened expectations for the 2005 season. Cleaver, Devlin, Adams, and opposite hitter Mariah Daly '06 already had posted a school-record three straight 20-win seasons. However, the Mules' entire post-season history had consisted of an ECAC tourney bid in 1995 and annual NESCAC playoff appearances.

"A lot of people, including myself, worried about senior-itis," said Parent, who has a 228-140 record in 11 seasons as the Mules' coach. "Were they going to put too much pressure on themselves? Were they going to be too analytical? Were they going to worry about all the other things and forget to play?"

Those worries proved unfounded.

The addition of first-year setter Jenny Lawrence '09 addressed the biggest positional issue facing the Mules, and Lawrence and libero (a specialized defensive player) Kendall Kirby '07"the 2005 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year"joined the seniors as the Mules went undefeated through their NESCAC schedule.

A win against four-time defending conference champion Williams was symbolic of Colby's increased maturity. The Mules rallied from a 30-10 thumping in the fourth game to win the fifth and final game of the match 15-12.

"I think it was Kaitlin who came over to the bench after we lost 30-10 and said. 'the score's 2-2,'" said Daly. "The game score didn't matter, but the match was even and we had to win one more game."

That was in stark contrast to the team's 2004 fortunes in such scenarios. In five-game matches, Colby went 0-5 last year, but in 2005 the Mules were 8-0. "This game is so much momentum," Cleaver said. "This year we proved we can win those fifth games, and that's purely mental."

The top-ranked team in New England Division III for most of the season, Colby not only earned the top seed for the NESCAC tournament, but the opportunity to play host.

That brought out the fans, and it brought out the best in the Mules. They defeated Wesleyan, Williams, and Tufts to win the conference crown. It also earned them the chance to play host to the NCAA New England regional the next weekend. There the top-seeded Mules beat Mount Ida, MIT, and Tufts to earn a trip to the NCAA national championships in Salem, Va.

"All season long I was waiting for us to play as well as we played those two weeks," Parent said. "The crowd was great, we didn't put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and we played some phenomenal matches."

Colby's introduction to national championship-level competition came against Juniata College, a volleyball power from
Huntingdon, Pa., that swept the 2004 men's and women's Division III national titles. The teams had met earlier in the season, with Juniata earning a four-game victory. But from that loss"and the game Colby won"came confidence for the impending rematch.

In the quarterfinal, Juniata cruised to a 30-13 first-set victory, but Colby took a 29-27 lead and had two game points in the second game before the Eagles scored four straight points for a 31-29 win. Juniata closed out the match in the next game, then advanced to the championship round before losing to Wisconsin-Whitewater.

"We knew we could compete against them," said Devlin, "but we didn't play our best game that day and lost to a great team."
Graduation will take a considerable toll on Colby's volleyball team, but through their run to the NCAAs the Mules gained an intangible that those who remain hope will prove pivotal to continued success.

"Now we know how to win," said Parent. "I really believe you have to go through the experience of learning how to win and how to close out those tough matches to have the confidence you need to be successful. Now we have that confidence."